Regardless of the jurisdiction, most courts base custody decisions on what's in the best interests of the child. Depending on the age of the child, the court may give his desires for which parent he would prefer to live some consideration. In very contentious cases, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child's interests; he may also order a home study or a psychological evaluation to aid him in making a final decision.
In determining what's in the child's best interests, courts will consider a number of factors:
In instances where the court finds that the parents are equal in these areas, the decision may come down to which parent has been the child's primary caregiver throughout his or her life. Some courts may base the decision on which parent can provide a more stable environment for the child and which parent appears more likely to encourage the child to maintain a relationship with the non-custodial parent.
In situations where one parent has filed a Motion for Change of Custody, in most jurisdictions, courts require the moving party to demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in circumstances which impacts the child's best interests. Factors which may demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances include:
In recent years, all fifty states have enacted laws protecting grandparent's rights. These laws govern a grandparent's right to visitation and may also allow grandparents to seek custody of a minor child.
The most common instances where grandparents may petition for custody are:
Child custody cases are highly emotional and can be stressful to the parents, grandparents, and children. Attempting to represent yourself in a child custody case is very risky. Before moving forward with a child custody case, you should consult with a family law attorney who will advise you of the laws in your state and assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case.