One of the most common beliefs that people hold onto when thinking about divorce is that the mother always gains custody of the child, especially if the child is a girl. This belief came from the notion that women are natural parents – they are more nurturing, they understand children better, and are more likely to be able to give the child the attention and love needed even when existing in a single-parent household.
However, these are old gender norms that do not hold true for everyone. There are mothers who commit crimes against their children, and there are mothers who may be mentally or physically unfit to raise children. So, what happens in such cases? Well, that’s where child custody laws come into play.
In legal terms, custody refers to the guardianship of a child, or, in simple terms, who gets to take care of a child. A person who has custody of a child is responsible for all decisions such as the child’s education, religion, healthcare, and more, which is why legal custody is such an important right. Custody is determined keeping in mind the “Child’s Best Interest Standard” and is a very complex issue whose laws vary from state to state.
When someone is having a child out of wedlock, the mother is granted immediate legal custody of the child. Only if the unwed biological mother is deemed unfit to raise the child is when the unwed father receives legal custody.
In the case of married parents, custody is not automatically granted to the mother, even though this used to be the case in the past. Custody laws are now being reviewed with a gender-neutral lens and due to this; there are various factors that come into play when determining who gets to take care of the child. Some of these factors include:
- The strength of the relationship of the child with each parent;
- The child’s physical and emotional health;
- Each parent’s home environment and whether it is stable;
- Failure to pay child support;
- Actual willingness to parent the child;
- Violence or domestic abuse;
- The child’s wishes (if they are old enough to express a preference)
It’s important to note that even if the child was adopted by the divorcing parents, custody can still be granted to the adoptive parents, and the procedure of gaining custody will not change.
Ultimately, child custody laws are quite complex and the issue of custody is determined during the divorce proceedings in court. One way to avoid complicated custody rules is by agreeing to an amicable divorce and sharing custody of the child. However, if that is not possible due to extreme circumstances, then you must contact an experienced, new jersey-based child custody lawyer and file for sole custody.
Veronica Baxter is a writer, blogger, and legal assistant operating out of the greater Philadelphia area.