If you and your spouse are headed for divorce, one of your main concerns may be over the custody of your child. You are probably used to spending a great deal of time with your child, and it may feel unsettling to think about any potential limitations on your time together.
Most people understand that some decisions regarding child custody must be made before divorce can be finalized. However, those who have not been through the divorce process before may not realize who ends up making those decisions, and, truthfully, the answer depends on the individual situation.
You and your spouse may work together toward an agreement
You may have the most influence over child custody outcomes if you and your spouse work together to come to reach an agreement. If you and your spouse struggle to get along, you may still be able to reach a child custody agreement out of court through an alternate dispute resolution process.
Mediation and collaboration are the two most common alternate dispute resolution processes in Florida. Mediation involves spouses meeting with a neutral mediator, who will help guide the couple’s conversations toward resolutions. Collaboration involves both spouses, their attorneys and other professionals working together to reach resolutions.
The main difference between mediation and collaboration is how easily a couple can pursue litigation later. If a couple tries mediation, but cannot reach a resolution, they can still take the matter to court with relatively few hurdles. If a couple does not reach a resolution in collaboration, they must both find a new attorney to represent them in court.
A court will decide if an agreement cannot be reached
If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement on custody arrangements, a court will decide for you. If this occurs, the court will make its decision based on the best interests of your child, which may be determined by considering several factors.
Some factors a court may consider, include:
- Each parent’s history to encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent
- Each parent’s ability to prioritize the child’s needs above his or her own
- How long the child has lived in a stable environment
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- The child’s record at home, school and in the community
- Any history of domestic violence
- The child’s developmental stage
- The child’s needs
- Each parent’s involvement in the child’s activities
Often, courts prefer to award custody arrangements that involve parents sharing child rearing responsibilities. This is because it is usually in a child’s best interest to maintain a relationship with both parents. However, other custody arrangements may be awarded if the circumstances warrant it.
Every family’s situation is unique, and sometimes processes like mediation and collaboration are not appropriate. However, with a decision as important as child custody, it can be valuable to understand all of your options, so you can pursue the best one for your family.