There are different approaches to child custody in a divorce, but the two most prevalent methodologies can be termed “child-centered” and “parent equality”.  This article explains the difference and provides information about why the child-centered approach is the most important for the best interests of children.

What is Child-Centered Child Custody?

Child-centered custody places the focus on the parenting arrangement that is in the child’s best interest, even if that means that the child is with one parent more than the other.  In short, a child-centered approach to child custody means that the parents put the needs of the child or children ahead of the parents’ need or desire to have 50% or more time with the child. Parents should truly consider what is best for their children.  Depending on the family circumstances and the specific needs of the children, it may be best that the children have more time in one home.  If the parents cannot agree on parenting time, the court will develop a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child.

How is Child Centered Child Custody Different from Parent Equality?

The idea of each parent having the right to 50% of the child’s time can be called a “parent equality” approach to child custody.  Much of the effort toward a divorce settlement is expended on defining an equitable division of all that was previously shared by the couple.  There are so many ways that this division can become complicated, but there is no area more complicated or more important than parenting. 

Assets such as houses, cars, cash, investments, retirements, furniture and other personal property can be relatively easily divided (at least in theory).  One spouse may get 50% of the value of the house and other might get the other 50%, and that could be considered a fair and equitable division of that previously shared property.  If one were to apply this equal division concept to child custody, it would mean that each parent would be entitled to 50% of the child’s time. For example, a child might live one week with her mother, a second week with her father, on an alternating schedule.

When is Parent Equality a Viable Child Custody Option?

Parent equality can feel fair to divorcing spouses because it does give each parent equal access. There are certainly situations where a 50/50 split custody arrangement is also what is in the best interests of the children. However, if either parent is more available or more needed by the child, then parent equality is almost certainly NOT the right decision.  If the following are all true then equal parenting time may be a viable option:

  • Parents live close enough to one another that schooling is not disrupted when a child sleeps at one home instead of the other
  • All children are weaned or a choice has been made not to breastfeed
  • Parents have equal travel requirements in terms of how often each parent needs to travel out of town
  • Parents keep similar or identical work hours such that the need for care from a third party would be the same when the child is housed with either parent
  • The parents are both capable of caring for the child
  • The parents are able to co-parent and work together amicably

Do Judges Give Preference to Parents who Focus on Child Centered Custody?

Having made custody decisions as a juvenile court judge since 2003, I can tell you that the judges make custody decisions based on what is in the best interests of the children.  It is concerning when parents are so focused on what they want that they fail to put the needs of their children first.  A parent should not use their children or litigation merely to hurt the other parent.  Unfortunately, some parents are so focused on revenge or their dislike of the other parent, that they hurt their children through the divorce and child custody process.  Taking a child-centered approach to child custody isn’t just the right thing to do, it is often the more effective approach.  Judges are people too, and they are likely to look favorably on a parent who is committed to doing what he or she truly believes is best for the children.

The Bottom Line on Child Centered Child Custody

A child centered approach to child custody focuses on the needs of the children, not necessarily the wants of the parents.

At Stone & Sullivan, we fight for our clients, whether it is through an agreed upon settlement, or through litigation in court.  We want the best for families.  We do what it takes to give our clients what they need to win the child custody decision that is right for them and for their children. 

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