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Child custody is one of the most important issues-if not the most important issue-parents have to address in the divorce process. For parents going into child custody proceedings, there can be a lot of apprehension about how the decision is made and how to protect their rights as a parent. Working with an experienced attorney is critical to ensure one has solid guidance.

One important point to understand is that child custody determinations are not based on the interests of the parents, but primarily on the interests of the child. The "best interests of the child" is the statutory language used to describe a collection of factors relating to the child's health and well being in any given custody arrangement. It is up to family courts to determine what custody and parenting time arrangement is in the child's best interests.

The factors involved in a best interest determination could be divided up in several categories: those relating directly to the parent; those relating directly to the child; and those relating to the relationship between the parent and the child. Most factors are interrelated, though, and judges take them all into consideration as they see fit.

With respect to the parents, the court will consider things like: ability and willingness to provide the child with love, guidance and affection and continue seeing to the child's educational development; ability and willingness to provide the child's material needs, including food, clothing, medical and other care; moral fitness; mental and physical health.; and ability and willingness to facilitate a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent.

In our next post, we'll continue looking at this topic and the role of an attorney in the child custody process.

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