Child Custody State Laws : A Summary

Divorce laws vary considerably amongst states. The rules on child custody also vary from one state to another.

Alabama. In Alabama, both parents have equal right to child custody. The court can award joint custody to both parents. In such cases, one parent is the primary custodian while the other is the secondary custodian and the parental rights of both parents remain intact. Both parents have the right to be involved in taking decisions that affect the child’s welfare such as education, health care, religion and other activities.

Alaska. The court will be guided by the best interests of the child when deciding who gets custody. The court may consider all the relevant factors when deciding the issue of child custody. Any parent who engages in domestic violence will generally not be given custody as it is against the best interest of the child. The court may award joint or sole custody depending on the circumstances of the case. Joint custody is generally awarded if it is in the best interest of the child and both parents have a parenting agreement in place.

Arizona. Joint custody is generally awarded if it is in the best interest of the child and both parents have a parenting agreement in place. Any parent who engages in domestic violence will generally not be given custody as it is against the best interest of the child. To determine the best interest of the child, the court considers the parents’ wishes, the child’s wishes, the physical and mental health of the parties, the interaction between the child and relatives, how the child has adjusted to home, school and community, which parent will involve the child in the life of the other, the primary caregiver, written agreements if any on custody and whether any coercion was used to get the agreement signed by one parent, attending domestic relations education, etc. The court generally awards reasonable visitation rights to the non-custodial parent unless the contact with the non-custodial parent can result in serious harm to the child.

Arkansas. The court will be guided by the best interests of the child when deciding who gets custody.

California. The court will be guided by the best interests of the child when deciding who gets custody. If the parents agree on joint custody, then it shall be presumed to be in the child’s best interest. The court will also consider which parent is more likely to involve the child in the life of the other.

Colorado. The court can award joint custody if there is a parenting plan in place between the parents. In such cases, one parent will be designated the residential custodian. In the absence of any parenting plan, the court will be guided by the best interests of the child when deciding who gets custody.

Connecticut. If the parents agree on joint custody, then it shall be presumed to be in the child’s best interest. In such cases, if the court does not grant joint custody, it must record its reasons for doing so. Generally the courts tend to award joint legal custody with one parent having primary physical custody. The court can grant visitation rights to grandparents and others if it is in the best interest of the child.

Delaware.

District of Columbia. The court can order continuing and frequent contact between each parent and the child. The court will be guided by the best interests of the child. The court will consider the parents’ wishes, the child’s wishes, the physical and mental health of the parties, the interaction between the child and relatives, how the child has adjusted to home, school and community, which parent will involve the child in the life of the other, the finances of the parties, the primary caregiver, etc.

Florida. Unless it is detrimental to the child, the court will order that both parents share the responsibility for raising a minor child. The court will however award one party the right to take decisions that affect the child’s welfare. If sole custody is in the best interest of the child, then the court will grant sole custody and the non-custodial parent may or may not be given visitation rights. Rotating custody orders can be passed in some cases.

Georgia. The court will be guided by the best interests of the child. If joint custody is in the best interest of the child, the court will award joint custody. Similarly if the parents have reached an agreement on parenting, the court will consider the agreement if it is in the best interest of the child. The preference of the child will be the deciding factor in case the child is 14 or over unless the chosen parent is deemed unfit for the purpose. Any parent who engages in family violence may be denied custody. A parent with a history of family violence can be denied visitation rights.

Hawaii. The court will be guided by the best interests of the child. The child’s wishes will play an important role if the child is of sufficient age and has the capacity to reason and form an intelligent preference. The court may grant joint custody. The court can grant visitation rights to grandparents and others interested in the child’s welfare.

Idaho.

Illinois. The court will be guided by the best interests of the child and will consider the wishes of the parents and the child.

Indiana. If joint custody is in the best interest of the child, the court will award joint custody. The court will consider the wishes of the parents and the child, the relationship between the child and any other person that may affect the child’s best interest, the physical and mental health of the parties and history of domestic violence.

Iowa. There is a presumption of joint custody if it is requested by either parent. If joint custody is not awarded, the court must explain why the joint custody is not in the best interests of the child. Joint custody does not mean joint physical custody. Physical custody is awarded after considering the best interests of the child.

Kansas.

Kentucky. If joint custody is in the best interest of the child, the court will award joint custody. Any conduct of the parent that does not affect the relationship with the child will not be a factor in determining custody. If the parent abandoned the family home to avoid physical harm, the abandonment will not be a factor.

Louisiana. If the parents have a parenting agreement in place, the court will award custody according to the terms of the agreement unless it is not in the best interests of the child to do so. In the absence of any such agreement or when the agreement is not in the best interests of the child, the court will award joint custody unless it can be proved that sole custody is in the best interest of the child. The court will consider which parent can provide a stable environment and who the primary caretaker is. The non-custodial parent will be awarded reasonable visitation rights.

Maine. If the parents have a parenting agreement in place, the court will award custody according to the terms of the agreement unless there is substantial evidence that it is not in the best interests of the child to do so. In the absence of any parenting agreement the court will be guided by the best interests of the child. The parent’s gender and the child’s gender and age will not be a deciding factor. The court can grant visitation rights to grandparents and others.

Maryland. Depending on the circumstances, the court may grant sole or joint custody. If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a parent neglected or abused the child and may continue to do so in the future, the court can deny custody to that party.

Massachusetts. Both parents must submit shared custody plans. The court may either approve or modify the plan or reject the plan and grant sole custody to one parent.

Michigan. The court will be guided by the best interests of the child. To determine the best interests of the child, the court will consider the following: the physical, mental, emotional, social and religious needs of the child, the prudence and moral character of the parents, the physical and mental health of the parties, the ability and willingness of each parent to meet the educational, physical, mental, emotional, social and religious needs of the child, the child’s preference when the child is of sufficient age and maturity, the emotional relationship between each parent and the child, the need to provide the child with a stable environment, the ability and willingness of each parent to involve the child in the other’s life, the adjustments made by the child vis a vis school, home and community, the nature of the proposed custodial home, history of abuse or domestic violence and other factors as may be relevant. The court will award joint custody if both parents agree or if one parent seeks joint custody and it is in the best interests of the child.

Minnesota. Joint custody is considered to be in the best interest of the child if both parents request for joint custody unless there is spousal abuse. If the best interest of the child lies in sole custody, then sole custody will be granted. If the custodial parent wrongfully denies or interferes with the visitation order, the court may order additional visitation.

Mississippi. The court will be guided by the best interest of the child. If both parents request joint custody, then it is considered to be in the best interests of the child. The court can grant joint physical custody to both parent with one or both parents having legal custody, physical custody to both parents but only one having legal custody, physical custody to one parent and legal custody to both parents or custody to a third party in cases where the child has been abandoned by the parents or the parents are unfit.

Missouri. The court will be guided by the best interest of the child. The court may award sole legal, sole joint legal, sole physical, joint legal or any combination of child custody. The favors the award of joint custody.

Montana. The parents must jointly or separately submit a parenting plant. The court will award joint or sole custody after considering the child’s best interests.

Nebraska. The court will be guided by the best interest of the child. The court will consider a) the relationship between each parent and the child b) the child’s preferences, c) the general health, social behavior and welfare of the child d) credible evidence of abuse. If both parents agree on joint custody, the court will award joint custody.

Nevada. The court will be guided by the best interest of the child. The order of preference is as follows: jointly to both parents or either parent, any person(s) in whose home he child has been staying and the child has a stable and wholesome environment, any person who is related to the child within the third degree of consanguinity, to any other suitable person. The court considers the following while determining the best interest of the child: the child’s wishes (if the child is old and mature enough), the nomination if any by a parent for a guardian, history of domestic violence. A parent who has a history of child custody will not be given custody.

New Hampshire. The court will be guided by the best interest of the child and will award joint legal custody unless there is a history of abuse by one parent. While deciding custody, the court will consider the child’s preference, the child’s education, the neutral mediator’s recommendations and other relevant factors.

New Jersey. Depending on the needs of the child, the court may award sole or joint custody. The law does not give preference to joint custody or to any parent.

New Mexico.

New York. The court will be guided by the best interest of the child and award sole or joint custody. The preference of the parents does not count.

North Carolina. The court will be guided by the child’s interest and welfare and award joint or sole custody. The law does not give preference to any one parent. The court will consider the child’s safety, history of domestic violence and other relevant factors.

North Dakota.

Ohio. If either parent seeks shared parenting and submits a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child, the court can approve it and pass a shared parenting ordering. If there is no such request from either parent, the court will grant the parental rights and responsibilities primarily to one parent according to the best interest of the child.

Oklahoma.

Oregon. If both parents request or agree to joint custody, the court will order joint custody. However if only one parent requests joint custody and the other objects, joint custody cannot be awarded. If joint custody is awarded, the court may specify the home of one parent as the primary residence and award one parent with the right to take decisions on certain matters while both parents can jointly take decisions on others. When awarding sole custody, the court will consider the lifestyle, finances, marital status, conduct and social environment of the parents if it is shown that these factors can adversely affect the child. Besides the parents, a person who has emotional ties with the child creating a parent child relationship can also seek custody or visitation.

Pennsylvania.

Rhode Island.

South Carolina.

South Dakota.

Tennessee.

Texas. The court may award sole or joint custody depending on the best interests of the child. The court will be guided by the child’s best interest when deciding the issue of visitation.

Utah. The court will be guided by the best interests of the child. The court will also consider the moral standards of the parties and their past conduct. There is a presumption in favor of an abandoned spouse. The state has guidelines for fixing visitation schedules based on the child’s age.

Vermont.

Virginia.

Washington.

West Virginia. The primary caretaker is generally given custody. The law has not provisions for joint custody.

Wisconsin.

Wyoming.

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