Often times the child custody aspect of the intra family matters are fiercely contested with parties yielding to emotions and striving to win at all cost. Our experienced DC child custody lawyers are not only an expert in the controlling law and practice, but also factor in the family dynamics and can focus and channel client’s emotions to ensure favorable court ruling.
The governing principle in awarding child custody is the best interest of the child. In the District, there is a legal presumption of joint legal and physical custody among parties. However, the court may grant sole physical custody and joint legal, or both sole legal and physical custody or joint physical or sole legal. The court in assessing and evaluating each case and comparative position of parties, considers collectively the following statutory enumerated elements.
(A) The wishes of the child as to his or her custodian, where practicable:
Even if the child is under the legal age of providing legal consent, the court will take into consideration the child’s wishes and consider statements and evidence of child’s preference, this could include evidence provided by the daycare, teachers from school, a therapist or at times when appropriate the court will speak with the child directly.
(B) The wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to the child’s custody:
Clearly the court will take into consideration and factor in each parents’ commitment and dedication toward the child, evidence of quality time spent with the child, trips and outings and family interactions and involvement can bolster parents’ stated wishes.
(C) The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may emotionally or psychologically affect the child’s best interest:
The emotional sphere of the child vis as vis each parents is considered here. Evidence from a therapist or family member and childcare providers attesting to an emotional bond with a parent can be significant tipping evidence. Also sibling placement and child’s interactions with those siblings, biologically related or not, can provide further evidence of child’s emotional connection to a particular parent.
(D) The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community:
The proximity of a parent to child’s choice school or teacher or a program would be considered by the court as well as parent’s involvement with the child’s education, and community and extra curriculum activities.
(E) The mental and physical health of all individuals involved:
Parents with mental and psychological issues affecting the care and welfare of the child will be at deficit for placement considerations — as the court will always strive to place the child in an emotionally healthy environment.
(F) Evidence of an intra family offense as defined in section 16-1001(5):
Domestic violence and conflicts in the child’s environment is a significant factor. Evidence of child abuse or neglect, restraining orders, stay away orders, and any form of assault either proven or alleged – all would be closely considered and factored by the court in award of both physical and legal custody.
Some of the other factors considered by the court are:
(G) The capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare;
(H) The willingness of the parents to share custody; (I) the prior involvement of each parent in the child’s life;
(J) The potential disruption of the child’s social and school life;
(K) The geographic proximity of the parental homes as this relates to the practical considerations of the child’s residential schedule;
(L) The demands of parental employment;
(M) The age and number of children;
(N) The sincerity of each parent’s request;
(O) The parent’s ability to financially support a joint custody arrangement;
(P) The impact on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Program on Work, Employment, and Responsibilities, and medical assistance; and
(Q) The benefit to the parents.
DC child custody and visitation orders once issued, can establish and create routine and finality to the child’s as well as parent’s day to day life and allow for an amicable joint parenting. In the District, child custody orders may be modified or reexamined by showing of “substantial and material change of circumstances.” Generally geographical changes, recommendations by the child’s therapist or at times financial or even schooling issues can trigger modification hearings.
The court may also engage services of a therapist or appoint a guardian at litem (GAL) to better assess issues like child’s bond with the parents, child’s wishes, or the level of interactions or interrelationship among parties, if any.
Sample DC Child Custody complaint and additional information and sample documents is provided in the Resources section, the DC Bar Pro Bono Family Law Forms:
• Complaint for Custody and/or Visitation
• Consent Answer (Complaint for Custody and/or Access to Children)
• Contested Answer (Complaint for Custody and/or Visitation and Counterclaim)
• Reply to Counterclaim (Custody and/or Access to Children)
• Motion to Modify Custody and/or Visitation
• Motion for Temporary Custody and/or Access to Children
• Sample Parenting Plan
• Motion for Use in a Domestic Relations Case
• Opposition to Motion (Domestic Relations Case)