If parents cannot agree, the court will look at various factors to determine how to allocate parental responsibilities. In evaluating those factors, the court may consider the child’s own wishes about parenting time. The judge will look to the future and try to put a plan together that protects the child’s relationship with both parents, provided such a relationship is appropriate and healthy.
Because the judge has significant leeway in making a decision about child custody, it is important to speak to an attorney at the beginning of the case. How the custody issues are handled early on may affect how the court rules. An experienced lawyer may also help diffuse the conflict with the other parent; it is important to use the contested custody process to plan for the future rather than fight about the past.
Which is not to say that the past does not matter. Especially if there are issues of domestic violence, power and control, physical and emotional abuse, drug use, alcoholism, or issues surrounding a party’s mental health, previous experience can predict future behavior. And an appropriate parenting plan will understand how that behavior needs to be managed in the future.