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What Happens To Children In Divorce


There is a great deal of fallout parents begin divorce proceedings, especially when children are involved.  Those children can suffer feelings of abandonment, guilt, rejection, isolation, and depression.  How can parents and the courts look out for the best interests of the child? 

Custody agreements are established to help courts determine which parent, or parents, should share equally the privilege and responsibility of full custody of the child.  The most common agreements can include one or more of these elements:

  • Full Custody, whereby one parent, the custodial parent, has primary oversight of the child and has the majority of visitation rights with the child. 
  • Partial custody, including visitation rights, whereby the noncustodial parent has less visitation rights and influence with the child.  In some cases where the noncustodial or partial custody parent lives a great distance from the child, those visitation rights may be adjusted to allow less regular time but longer blocks of time with the child.  Visitation rights may also be adjusted if the partial custody parent is a threat to abduct the child, use drugs around him, or abuse him.  In those cases visitation rights may be denied or limited by a requirement for supervised visitation rights.
  • Joint custody, whereby both parents share full custody of the child equally and strive for equal visitation rights with the child.

Most parents attempt to negotiate a custody agreement from those options or others without going to court.  In fact, generally 95% of custody agreements are reached by parents without the intervention of a judge.

In the 5% of the cases where such a custody agreement cannot be reached, the judge must resolve the disputes based on what he believes are the best interests of the child.  Many factors can influence his decision, including

!The judge’s preferences, which often include believing that a single mother is fit to have full custody of young or female children than a single father.

!The child’s preferences.  However, if the child is very young or cannot express his preferences well, the judge many not give much weight to the child’s comments about whether one parent should have full custody, which should have partial custody, and who should have what level of visitation rights.

  • A parent’s behavior.  Activities such as sexual activity outside of marriage, drugs, gambling, alcoholism, and more, can carry great weight with the judge.  For example, if a parent has had discreet extramarital affairs, the judge may not give them much consideration.  However, if one parent flaunts his promiscuity in front of the child, that may lead to the other parent being considered more fit for full custody and greater visitation rights with child.
  • A parents’ homosexual relationships may have an influence in some courts and very little influence in others.  Some judges consider homosexual parents who flaunt their lifestyle to be displaying character that is not in the best interests of the child and grant him only partial custody. 
  • A parent who undermines the other parent’s relationship with the child can cause a judge to believe that s/he would not be a good candidate for full custody, but rather partial custody of the child.

Parental custody agreements can be as specific or as general as the parents choose to make them, as long as the judge approves.  Some parents who have full custody wish to be notified whenever the parent with partial custody uses his visitation rights to take the child to an unknown location for an unknown period putting a strain on the partial custody parent. 

In many states, judges have shown a preference for joint full custody.  Both parents have equal visitation rights and neither is left with partial custody.  It is important that the parents live in close proximity for this type of agreement to work. Of course, if there are constant disagreements about the child and visitation rights and parameters, this will deteriorate as well. 

While joint full custody sounds wonderful, it may not always work out best for the child.  Joint full custody creates a lot of instability.  In order for both parents to have equal visitation rights with the child, there is often a great deal of transition.  On the other hand, joint full custody allows the child to maintain a good relationship with both parents and not feel a parent with partial custody is lost to him. 

Custody Problems
In some situations, what seems to be a good schedule of visitation rights may be disrupted by a major problem, such as a planned move by the parent who has full custody away from the parent who has partial custody.  Courts are reconsidering their former stance of allowing the parent with full custody to relocate whenever he chooses.  They realize that that may damage the relationship a child has with the partial custody parent, disrupting visitation rights and schedules and causing the child to feel like s/he is beginning to lose that partial custody parent.  Today, judges more often question the move, especially if the partial custody parent opposes it.  The judge will consider the reason for the move by the full custody parent as well as the opposition to the move by the partial custody parent. 

  • If the full custody parent is moving for a positive reason, such as a better job, more access to extended family, better schools, and better health environment for the child, the judge may be more open to approving the move.
  • If the judge suspects the full custody parent is moving merely to limit access to the child by the partial custody parent, he may deny the move.
  • If the partial custody parent opposes the move merely to “get back” at the full custody parent, especially if the partial custody parent has not been particularly consistent in exercising visitation rights, the judge may not consider that opposition too heavily.  The judge may also ask the child what his preference is:  whether to allow the full custody parent to move away, or to order him to remain in close proximity to the partial custody parent.
No matter what the reasons for these kinds of changes in visitation rights, the child ends up the loser.  It is hoped that parents and courts will continue to give more weight to the best interests of the child no matter who has full custody, partial custody, or visitation rights with the child.
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