In the event of divorce, both physical and legal custody of the child must be determined. Physical custody refers to who the child lives with and legal custody refers to which parent makes major life decisions for the child related to their education, religious upbringing or healthcare. Both physical and legal custody can be shared custody or sole custody. Child custody decisions in North Dakota are always based on what is in the best interests of the child.
When parents are unable to reach a child custody agreement, the family law court will look to what is in the best interests of the child and base the child custody arrangement on that. What is in the best interests of the child is unique in every situation and is based on consideration of a variety of factors including:
- The emotional ties between the parents and child and the ability of each of the parents to provide a nurturing environment;
- The ability of each of the parents to provide a safe environment that provides for the basic necessities of the child;
- The developmental needs of the child and the ability of the parents to meet those needs;
- The adequacy and stability of the home environment of each of the parents and the length of time the child has spent in the homes of each of the parents;
- The impact of extended family;
- The interactions and relationships between the child and others living in the parent’s household;
- Maintaining continuity for the child in their home, school and community;
- The child’s wishes based on the age and maturity of the child; and
- Any history of abuse or other factors the family law court considers relevant to determining what is in the best interests of the child.
The best interests of the child is the guiding determination when child custody decisions are made. It is crucial for parents impacted by child custody to understand how child custody decisions are made so they can participate in the process and arrive at a child custody determination that is best for the child and works for their family.