Child custody laws are a set of laws put into place to govern the legal relationship between children and their divorced parents, while keeping the best interest of the children in mind. Child custody laws include laws that pertain to physical custody and legal custody. These laws also address custody issues that may arise upon the death of both of a child’s parents.
When a couple decides to get a divorce, they agree on a custodial arrangement or adhere to an arrangement enforced by a court of law. Court enforced custodial arrangements address the physical and legal custody of a child. Physical custody refers to the physical placement of a child. If one parent obtains full physical custody, the custodial agreement will address the visitation rights of the non-custodial parent. In some cases, parents agree or the court enforces shared physical custody, which requires the child spend close to equal amounts of time with each parent. This may include splitting days of each week, splitting weeks of each month or splitting months of each year.
Legal custody in child custody laws refers to the authority to make major decisions regarding a child’s well-being, including things such as education, medical treatment and religious affiliation. In the United States and other Western countries, many courts award joint legal custody, but award physical placement on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries that operate under Shari‘a law, the father is granted full legal and physical custody when there is a divorce.
When courts in the West make custodial decisions based on child custody laws, they consider a variety of factors in conjunction with the best interest of a child. A child’s age, sex, health, preference and emotional bonds formed with each parent are factors used in determining custody. Additionally, courts consider the lifestyle and emotional well-being of the parents and the ability of each parent to provide physical necessities, emotional support and guidance to the child.
In some cases, the court may find both parents unfit for custody and award custody or temporary guardianship to other family members, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles or siblings. In the event that family members are unavailable, it is necessary to place the child in foster care. It is very rare that a court deems both parents unfit, but it can occur in cases of substance abuse, incarceration, child abandonment or mental health problems.