Child custody cases are never easy for any of the parties involved, especially the children. In a North Dakota case involving minor children, unless the parents can agree on how to share parenting time or how to raise their children, the court will be the one to make said decisions. Courts encourage parents to resolve these issues amongst themselves or through mediation as they are the ones who know their child the best. However, this is not always possible. When determining parental rights and responsibilities, the Court will look at what is called the “best interests of the child” factors. In every case, the child’s interests are considered more important than the interests of either parent. The court makes its decisions about primary residential responsibility and parenting time with the goal of maintaining and, if possible, improving the child’s mental health, emotional development, happiness, and wellbeing.
In the past, courts tended to favor mothers when making custody decisions. However, there is now a greater recognition that the child’s best interests are served when the child maintains a close relationship with both their mother and father. While maintaining a close relationship with both parents is important for the child, ensuring the parents foster their child’s relationship with the other parent is an ongoing problem commonly seen in child custody cases.
If you find yourself in the middle of a child custody case, it is of the utmost importance to make decisions with your child’s best interests in mind. The choices that you or the court make will ultimately affect your child and your relationship with them for years to come.
Nearly all courts in the U.S. follow the “best interests of the child” standard. Reviewing these factors will help you anticipate what to expect and show you what the court will consider in your child custody case. Under North Dakota Century Code 14-09-06.2, the law is very specific on what a court may consider when determining custody and visitation. These factors include:
- The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parents and child and the ability of each parent to provide the child with nurture, love, affection, and guidance;
- The ability of each parent to assure that the child receives adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and a safe environment;
- The child’s developmental needs and the ability of each parent to meet those needs, both in the present and in the future;
- The sufficiency and stability of each parent’s home environment, the impact of extended family, the length of time the child has lived in each parent’s home, and the desirability of maintaining continuity in the child’s home and community;
- The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child;
- The moral fitness of the parents, as that fitness impacts the child;
- The mental and physical health of the parents, as that health impacts the child;
- The home, school, and community records of the child and the potential effect of any change;
- If the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that a child is of sufficient maturity to make a sound judgment, the court may give substantial weight to the preference of the mature child. The court also shall give due consideration to other factors that may have affected the child’s preference, including whether the child’s preference was based on undesirable or improper influences;
- Evidence of domestic violence;
- The interaction and interrelationship, or the potential for interaction and interrelationship, of the child with any person who resides in, is present or frequents the household of a parent and who may significantly affect the child’s best interests. The court shall consider that person’s history of inflicting, or tendency to inflict, physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault, on other persons;
- The making of false allegations not made in good faith, by one parent against the other, of harm to a child; and
- Any other factors considered by the court to be relevant to a particular parental rights and responsibilities dispute.
No one factor is most important as the court will weigh all of the evidence presented that relates to these factors in order to make a determination of what is in the child’s best interest.
Seeking help from an experienced family law attorney is a good idea when you are in a conflict over custody and visitation. Contact the Family Law Team at SW&L at 701-297-2890 or email us via the contact form below.