How does age affect child custody in divorce?

What is in the best interest of a child varies by age

When parents divorce, the most difficult part of their marriage dissolution case is almost always determining what the post-divorce child custody arrangement will look like.

In these situations, many parents find it helpful to shift their frame of thinking. Instead of asking "how to I win this fight against my spouse?" it can be more beneficial to ask "what is in the best interests of my child?" In fact, this is the same question a judge will ask if the child custody case ultimately needs to be resolved in court.

Age and best interests

Absent extraordinary circumstances like child abuse or inappropriate drug or alcohol use, it is usually in the best interests of a child to spend at least some time with both parents. Similarly, it is usually best for both parents to play a role in decisions involving education, discipline, health care and other important elements of the child's upbringing. However, what this shared time and responsibility looks like depends a lot on the age of the child.

Babies, for example, need an incredible amount of regularity. As such, the parent with whom the child spends the majority of his or her time will likely set a sleeping and feeding schedule that the other parent will need to make an effort to follow. In turn, the residential parent should be sure to keep the other parent fully informed and involved in decisions involving medical care, day care, new foods and similar issues.

As children grow, they are more able to tolerate and adjust to changes in their schedule. Overnight visits with the non-residential parent are appropriate for many preschoolers, for example, but deviations to the scheduled routine should still be kept to a minimum whenever possible.

Once children reach school age, they are more able to adapt to changing schedules. In fact, their lives - what with sports, lessons, school activities and friends taking on a more important role - often demand it. Parents of school-age children will want to work to ensure that they are both able to present and supportive, whether it be at home, at school, or in the community.

Finally, teenagers need a greater deal of independence. Considering that the teen years can be very emotionally volatile, it can be wise for parents to work to demonstrate their love and commitment to their child while trying to also accommodate the teen's need to stay connected to their friends and social activities.

Getting help from an attorney

Of course, these are just a few of the many considerations that come into play during a child custody case. If you have questions about child custody, or any element of divorce, be sure to talk them over with an experienced family law attorney.

Keywords: child custody, divorce