A: The overall standard is the “best interests of the child.” Within that standard, the court considers “the totality of the circumstances.” That said, there are a number of other specific factors that the court considers when awarding custody when dealing with two biological parents.
The Judge will generally consider the stability of the child’s current arrangement, each parent’s home environment and financial ability to meet the child’s needs, any arrangements to care for the child when the parent is unavailable, who has been the primary caretaker for the child in the years (or months) leading up to the custody filing, any drug/alcohol abuse by either parent, past criminal behavior of a parent, the mental & physical health of the parties, adverse sexual misconduct or other moral character flaws of either parent, domestic violence, as well as the child’s preferences.
The court will also assess each parent’s willingness to foster a relationship between the other parent and the child (including issues of parental alienation and/or involving the child on parental conflict), any denial of access to the child, as well as any abuse or neglect of the child. The Court will also consider availability of either parent to care for the child, as well as false accusations made against the other party. Likewise, a party’s conduct during the pre-trial phase will be considered, such as conduct in court, illicit recordings or other unlawful conduct towards the other parent, lateness with pick-up/drop-offs or inflexible parenting approaches (e.g., one parent trying to be the dictator towards the other). Finally, the Judge will assess the parties conduct as the case is proceeding, including whether a party has misled the Court or violated any pre-trial orders.
First, no matter how tense the situation may be around the house, do NOT move out of the house & leave the kids with the other parent. This will automatically put you behind the 8-ball in winning custody.
Additionally, if you haven’t been already, take an active part in EVERYTHING the children are involved in. Make sure his/her teachers, doctors, extracurricular activity instructors, etc. know you by your first name.
If you presently work long hours, cut it out immediately. Spend the extra time with your kids. Take them fun places & buy them nice gifts (though caution must used not to over-do it as it otherwise would look like you’re trying the bribe them).
Keep a written diary of any important conversations or interactions with the other parent (a “he-said-she-said” log). Refrain from posting negative content about the other parent on social media as this is potentially discoverable – if you have something to say to a friend/family member, say it in person. Refrain from cursing or denigrating the other parent, especially in writing (I don’t know how many cases I have in which one side curses or denigrates the other via text and/or e-mail).
Finally, consult a good Child Custody lawyer in your area.