You’re headed for divorce, and you and your spouse cannot agree on a custody solution for your children. This means that you can’t use mediation, so you’re going to have to go to court and let the judge decide. Since your children are the most important part of the case to you, you’re naturally wondering how the court is going to make that determination.

To start with, the main thing that the court focuses on — and this is true in many other states, as well — is the child’s best interests. This is important to specify because parents tend to argue for their own best interests: when they want to see the child, what schedule works for them, how much involvement they want, etc.

To the court, parental concerns like this come second. They will try to make a decision that is best for the child, even if neither parent agrees with it. For instance, you may both be arguing that you should get sole custody, but the court could decide that it’s best for the children to still see you and your ex, and they could award you shared custody on those grounds. Neither of you gets what you want, but the child gets what is best for them.

What factors will the court use when looking into these best interests? Every case is different, but they include things like:

  • The child’s physical development and well-being
  • The child’s mental and emotional health
  • The family relationships the child has with both of you and/or with extended family members
  • The mental and physical condition of each parent, as it relates to their ability to care for the child
  • The location where the parents live
  • What the child actually wants

This last point is sometimes contentious, as the parents don’t want the child to make the decision on their own. Don’t worry; they cannot do so. But that doesn’t mean their wishes won’t be considered as part of the big picture. The older that the children are, the most seriously these wishes are taken.

As you get closer to your divorce and the child custody portion of the case, be sure you know what factors the court considers, how the process works and what legal options you have.