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In divorce cases that involve children, a custody petition is commonly filed by providing the petition to the court that has child custody jurisdiction. A custody petition is a written document that asks the court to issue an order regarding which parent a child will live with. It may be filed by both parties together if they have come to an agreement regarding custody, as in the case of joint custody arrangements. If they do not agree, each party may file his own petition with the court. The court will review custody petitions and consider the best interests of the child when determining custodial rights.
A number of factors may influence a court when it makes its determination regarding the best interests of the child. One of the most important considerations a court makes concerns the stability of each of the parents. Courts may favor awarding custody to the parent who will cause the least amount of disruption to the child's life. If custody is being disputed, each party will typically include a parenting plan when they file their custody petition. This plan may outline how each parent intends to provide stability and meet their child's needs.
Those filing custody petitions might address how capable they are of providing for the emotional and physical needs of the child. Courts often consider which parent will be most able to give reassurance and provide for the day to day needs of the child. Courts sometimes take past behavior into consideration. This might include which parent took the child to doctor's appointments, helped them with their homework, and stayed up with them during the night when they were sick.
Custody petitions may discuss the emotional ties between each parent and the child. A court might also look at the child's past relationship with each parent when making its custody determination. Past relationships may offer clues as to which parent will be most likely to put aside their own feelings to ensure that the child retains positive emotional ties with both parents. A court may favor the custody petition of a parent who most likely will foster a child's relationship with the other parent.
Either or both parents involved in a custody dispute may petition the court to consider the opinion of an expert when determining custody. Child custody experts might include psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers. Such experts may base their opinions regarding child custody on factors such as home environment and the mental stability of each parent as well as the child's.
If the child is over the age of 14, he may be asked to decide where he would like to live. If a formal courtroom atmosphere is too stressful for the child, a judge might interview him out of court. A social worker may also be asked to visit the child at home so that his preference can be made known. The wishes of the child sometimes overrule a custody petition filed by either or both parents.