How Courts in Your State Make Child Custody Decisions


Understand the common factors your state’s judges use when making child custody decisions.



To decide child custody cases, family law judges use a legal standard called “the best interests of the child.” These guidelines try to keep the children's lives stable and connected with both parents, if possible.

Here are the factors that courts commonly consider:

  • a child’s age, health, and social requirements and how well each parent can meet the child’s needs
  • a child’s current living situation and how well the status quo is working for the child
  • a child’s relationships with other significant people in each parent’s life
  • a child’s wishes, if the child is old enough to understand and take part in the decision
  • whether one parent is likely to do more to support a child’s relationship with the other parent, and
  • whether there is any history of domestic violence, physical abuse, substance abuse, or neglect.

To check these factors, judges collect information from many sources, including the parents, reliable witnesses who are familiar with the child’s life, and any mediators, mental health professionals, or social workers assigned to help with the custody evaluation. To learn more, select your state from the list below.


Jurisdictional relevance: ST

There are versions of this article for each State.

Select Your State