The judge uses the legal standard of the “best interests of the child” to decide how child custody will be shared between the parents. This applies to all children until they are 18 and graduated high school, or 19 without graduating high school. If a child is married as a minor, child custody does not apply. Often “best interests” boils down to keeping the child’s health, safety, and welfare the top priority when determining custody. The judge’s job is to consider factors like the child’s age, health, and schooling, to create a similar environment for the child after divorce. This is challenging because the parents will not be living together anymore.
The judge solves this problem by ordering, “frequent and continuing contact,” with both parents. Frequent and continuing contact means both parents have consistent and regular time with the child.
Frequent and continuing contact doesn’t work if there is any threat of child endangerment. If there is a threat, the child’s safety takes priority over continuing contact. If the court finds that there has been domestic violence within the previous five years, the law assumes that it is not in the child’s best interest to award custody to that parent.
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