By: Ciele Edward
Although child custody laws vary significantly depending on the state, courts typically decide custody hearings based on the living situation the judge believes is in the child’s best interests. The “best interests standard” as it is now known, replaced the “tender years doctrine” which dictated that a mother should retain primary custody of her children in all cases save those in which she was clearly unfit. The shift was intended to grant fathers a better opportunity of winning primary custody, but many courts still favor granting custody to the mother instead of the father. Even in areas where custody bias in favor of the mother still exists, a woman can lose custody of her children for a variety of reasons.
If a mother physically or emotionally abuses her children, or places them in danger in any way, she may lose custody. When a mother tests positive for drugs or is arrested for drug possession, the state government may intervene and revoke custody of her children – granting temporary custody either to a relative or placing the children in foster care. A previous history of child endangerment can also hurt a mother’s chances of winning a custody dispute if custody has yet to be determined.
Child endangerment isn’t restricted to abuse. In some cases, a child’s obesity can grant the state or a non-custodial parent with grounds to petition for a new custody arrangement. Although not child abuse in the traditional sense, a 2009 TIME magazine report claims that childhood obesity has resulted in custody loss in four different states.
If a mother enjoys primary custody of her children and the non-custodial parent or a third party accuses her of child abuse, drug use or any other activity that presents a threat to the children’s welfare, the court reserves the right to immediately remove the children from her home and revoke her custody rights while the court investigates the allegations. This occurs whether or not the allegations are legitimate. While many states levy penalties against individuals who make false accusations against a parent, this doesn’t stop all vindictive ex-spouses from making them – especially considering that intentional false allegations are challenging to prove. In addition, a child therapist who suspects possible abuse in the home may request revocation of custody and an investigation at any time without penalty.
Change in Circumstances
If a change in a mother’s circumstances causes a court to review its original decision granting her custody of her children, she may lose custody to the non-custodial parent. One example of a change in circumstances occurs if a mother chooses to move to a new state with the child. Family courts differ in the way they view out-of-state moves. Custodial parents are often required to notify non-custodial parents of the impending move in order to give the non-custodial parent an opportunity to object. Should a non-custodial parent object and the court finds no valid reason for the mother’s move, moving may result in her losing custody of her children.
Availability is a factor many courts consider when evaluating child custody disputes. If a court awarded a mother primary custody of her children, yet her work schedule leaves her unavailable the children after school and in the evenings, the non-custodial parent may petition for custody based on the mother’s limited availability to her children. The American Bar Association states that the amount of time each parent can spend with the child is a significant factor most courts consider when determining custody arrangements.
Both custodial and non-custodial parents alike should remember that custody arrangements are never set in stone. Regardless of how adept a parent a mother is, she can still lose custody of her children to either the children’s father or the state. Should the state intervene, it will attempt to place the children with a family member. If no family member is available, the children will be placed into the foster care system until the mother either regains custody or a capable family member comes forward and petitions for temporary custody.