There are times as a parent when you realize that your job is not to be the parent you always imagined you’d be, the parent you always wished you had. Your job is to be the parent your child needs, given the particulars of his or her own life and nature. – Ayelet Waldman
Perhaps one of the most vexing and negative domestic relations matter for a forensic psychologist is the issue of parental custody. Studies show that children do better after a divorce when parents reduce conflict and work together. Children who are distracted, torn, scared, or confused by their parents’ conflicts tend to have trouble. Their energies are diverted from normal activities like learning, making friends, and being part of their family.
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Factors Considered by Judges and Magistrate in Determining Custody
It is rare that one parent or the other will possess all good points or bad points. As a result, in determining primary physical custody of children, judges and magistrates will consider the following aspects with respect to each parent:
- the child’s age, sex, and mental and physical health
- the parent’s mental and physical health
- any history of child abuse
- the emotional bond between parent and child, as well as the parent’s ability to give the child guidance
- the parent’s ability to provide the child with food, shelter, clothing, and medical care
- the child’s established living pattern (school, home, community, religious institution)
- the quality of the child’s education in the current situation
- the impact on the child of changing the status quo, and
- the child’s preference, if the child is above a certain age (usually about 12).
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Often, none of these factors will lead to a clear decision favoring one parent over the other. Consequently, most courts tend to focus on which parent is more likely to provide the child with a stable environment and to better foster the child’s relationship with the other parent.
With younger children, this may mean awarding custody to the parent who has been the child’s primary caregiver. With older children, this may mean giving custody to the parent who is best able to foster continuity in education, neighborhood life, religious institutions, and peer relationships.
The Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association recognizes that it is scientifically and psychologically baseless, as well as in violation of human rights, to discriminate against men because of their sex in custody determination, adoption, child care services staffing, and personnel and parental leave practices. However, even in this time of gender equality, the courts typically favor the mother when both parents are otherwise equal in their capabilities.