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What factors influence a judge's child custody decision?

Family laws are concerned with the care of children when parents separate. Child custody and financial support are issues that can be worked out between spouses during a divorce. However, due to the emotional nature of the process, divorce can be a poor time for spouses to reach agreements on these or any other matters.

Parents turn to Florida courts when custody disputes are otherwise unresolvable. Judges have substantial leeway when making custody rulings, but at all times put a child's interests in the forefront. The primary issues are where a child will reside and which parent has the right to make decisions on the child's behalf, like where the child goes to school and which health care providers to use.

Several elements are weighed before a judge makes a custody award, including the stability of the child's current and proposed environments and the parents' physical and mental capacities. The relationships the child has with each parent, friends, teachers and classmates are considered. The adults' flexibility and attitudes toward co-parenting and abilities to provide a loving home for the child also are important factors.

Winner-take-all judgments, when one parent is awarded sole legal and physical custody, sometimes occur. More often, it is beneficial for children to maintain strong relationships with both parents. Child-rearing responsibilities are divvied up based on the child's needs – a parent with primary custody may share decision-making duties with a non-custodial parent.

When neither parent can provide the childcare necessary, judges move to appoint a guardian like a relative to take custody of the child.

Child custody can be an extremely sensitive issue during a divorce. Attorneys remind parents to look beyond immediate wishes and think about the long-term consequences of the choices they make, including the impact a custody arrangement would have on a child over time – that's what a judge in a Florida family court would do.

Source: FIndLaw, "Primary Child Custody Factors in Florida," accessed May. 06, 2015

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