Child custody is a major component of separation and divorce proceedings when there are minor children involved in a dissolving marriage. Custody is the legal and physical responsibility that a parent has in caring for their children. Legal custody involves the decision making responsibilities that are given to parents. Physical custody is the actual responsibility each parent has for physically housing and caring for a child. Both physical and legal custody can be awarded in different ways. Parents may share joint custody, and co-parent as they and the family law system see fit, or sole father custody or sole mother custody will be decided.
Sole Father Custody
Sole father custody is awarded less often in the United States than sole custody that goes to the mother. In terms of father custody, seven out of ten fathers are the non-custodial parent. Family law is governed by individual states and each one has its own specific statutes that guide custody proceedings. As a general rule, for both mother and father custody, decisions are to be made fairly and without biased based on the gender of the parent. Many judges throughout the country, however, have a tendency to award custody to mothers more often than fathers. Some legal professionals believe that a child, especially a younger one, benefits most from the preservation of the mother-child bond.
Though this may be the case in some situations, perspectives on mother and father custody decisions have changed considerably in the last few decades. In the early part of the 1900s children were considered the property of the father; father custody often took precedent. Following a shift in social mores, mothers were considered the most appropriate caretakers and were given precedence. The current climate of family law places the utmost importance on the best interest of the children involved in mother and father custody arrangements.
There are a number of factors taken into account when mother and father custody is determined. Children are able to testify to a judge or other legal decision-maker their wishes regarding mother and father custody preferences. Children of any age can testify though discretion is especially important when children are younger than seven. Factors such as domestic violence, the health and stability of each parent, parenting history, amount of time a parent is able to dedicate to caring for the child, and a number of other factors are considered when determining mother and father custody.
In marriage dissolutions that do not involve major areas of conflict, most family law systems will allow the two parents to work out a parenting plan alone or with the help of a mediator, so long as the agreement is in the best interest of the children involved. Finalized decisions must usually be approved by a judge. Mediators are social workers, psychologists, and the like who specialize in facilitating the mother and father custody negotiations process. Legal representation by an attorney can be beneficial in custody negotiations, especially in cases where there is a conflict of interest. A qualified and experienced family law attorney can help a parent in custody negotiations to ensure that their legal rights and options are protected and that their interests are maximized in the process of determining legal and physical custody of children.