When a couple with children divorces or separates, the court overseeing the separation process sets up initial child custody and support arrangements so that the children are taken care of during the divorce or separation. This is handled at a preliminary child custody hearing, where the court makes an inquiry into the current childcare situation and awards temporary custody to one parent, along with requiring child support from the non-custodial parent.
Standard of Care
In approving any custody agreement, be it permanent or preliminary, the court looks out for the best interests of the child. The court will inquire into the current arrangement in making a determination, and if the child is of sufficient age (this varies from state to state), the court will take into account the child's desire for placement. Best interests of the child also mean the court will take into account factors such as availability of child care, proximity to the child's school and accessibility to friends.
Involvement of the Parents
A preliminary determination of custody will involve a judicial inquiry into the current involvement of both parents in the child's life. This is particularly important for a father who might look to leave the communal home; if he moves out and physically separates himself from the child, it will most likely result in the preliminary custody being awarded to the mother. This is because the court will try to reduce the impact of the separation on the child by preserving the status quo if possible.
Domestic violence convictions, recent felony convictions or substance abuse problems by a parent will result in denial of child custody because of concerns about the parent's ability to properly care for the child. Parents with an adverse history should obtain counselling and professional therapy to illustrate to the court that they no longer represent a threat to either the ex-partner or the child.
Modifications of Preliminary Custody Orders
Preliminary custody orders are meant to provide for the child during the course of the separation. At the conclusion of the separation, the court will enter a final custody order. Many states provide for joint custody, but where this is not possible, the court will grant custody to the parent it believes is best capable of providing and caring for the child. The court will examine both parties' behaviour during the separation; thus failure to pay child support or to adhere to other stipulations of the preliminary custody order will not be viewed favourably.