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How does a judge decide who gets custody?

It doesn't matter whether you live in St. Charles, Missouri, or anywhere else in the United States; for most parents going through a divorce, the most important factor is the well-being of the child or children. If the decision to split is mutually agreed upon, often with the opinions of counselors, mediators, and attorneys, things are easy. But if there's a dispute and no resolution can be reached, it is up to the courts to decide.

The courts consider various factors when making a determination in a child custody case. First and foremost, the court's decision is based on what they consider the best interests of the child. All decision making is made with that focus in mind. Considering the importance of the primary caretaker in the child's life, it traditionally is the primary factor taken under consideration. Courts will look at who handles a majority of the responsibilities such as dressing, feeding, grooming, health and dental arrangements, and the teaching responsibilities for the child, including writing, reading and math skills, among others.

If a child is born to an unmarried couple, unless it can be proven that the mother is unfit to raise the child or is incapable of raising the child, the mother traditionally will be awarded custody, though in most states the law requires the court to be neutral with regard to gender. A father may still apply for shared custody in such situations. And you can still obtain some form of custody, or at the very least, visitation rights for the child.

There are also other situations when neither parent is fit or capable of take care of the child. In such circumstances, relatives such as the grandparents or aunts and uncles, or even close family friends can ask for custody.

Source: Findlaw,"Deciding who gets custody faq", Accessed March 17, 2015

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