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Child custody laws can vary from one jurisdiction to another. Generally, there are four basic child custody guidelines that almost every court relies upon to determine the suitability of petitioners, the individuals who have filed for legal guardianship of minor children. These four factors can best be described as a positive environment, previous involvement, present participation and personal character. More specific child custody guidelines might be implemented in unique circumstances.
A positive environment is a crucial element to the court when rendering a child custody decision. Financial resources, such as the ability to provide the child with the essentials of housing, food, clothing, medical care and education might be near the top of most child custody guideline lists. Safety factors also are critical issues as well. Judges and courts take a dim view of neglecting or abusing children, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or sexually. If social service or law enforcement agencies have been called in to investigate allegations of this kind, the judge likely would disqualify a petitioner who might have been a party to behaviors of a harmful nature.
Courts also might make note of how much previous involvement that either or both of the seeking parties have had with the child. In most cases, a child custody dispute is between parents who are divorcing. If one parent has been chronically absent from the child’s life or there is admissible proof to show that one party has had little or no contact with the child for an extended period of time without good cause, the court might take the lack of involvement under advisement when trying to reach a custody decision.
The present participation of someone seeking custody of a child also is a major consideration of the court. Being actively involved in a child’s life on a continuous and regular basis is one of the most critical of all child custody guidelines. The amount of time someone has available to devote to the basic daily care and oversight of the child also is important. Being reasonably available to the child at all times not only displays commitment to a child's growth and well-being, it also conveys to the child a sense of security and self-worth. Courts do take into consideration the need for parents to work and earn a living but might look negatively at factors such as frequent business trips and regular 10- or 12-hour workdays.
Finally, the personal character of those petitioning for child custody probably is the most important factor of all child custody guidelines. Children learn and then emulate behaviors from the authority figures in their lives, particularly when they are young. Most courts expect those who ask for custody to exhibit maturity, decent morals and a fair amount of stability in their own lives before placing children into their care and control. Criminal records, substance abuse, infidelity, poor job history and not paying debts are just a few of the factors at which the court might look to decide whether a petitioner displays the proper character and personal traits that would positively affect a child.
These child custody guidelines encompass the most important basic qualifications upon which almost all courts regularly rely to render judgments in child custody cases. More specific child custody guidelines might vary, depending on the location. Unusual situations might call for additional child custody guidelines if specific behaviors might have an adverse affect in particular cases.
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