Few aspects of divorce are as contentious as child custody. If you are currently involved a divorce process, then the factors which will most heavily impact the outcome of your case are likely to weigh heavily on your mind. While there are a large number of considerations that the court will take into account (and these can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as well), most will fall into a few general categories. As a parent, it is less important to focus on the details that the court will be looking at and more important to focus on the broader picture that those details will face.
Many people believe that child custody cases are decided by the cold, unfeeling hand of the law, but it is rare for judges to ignore the preferences of those involved entirely. This means that the preferences of the children and the parents are taken into account. As a general rule, you should expect your child's opinion to hold more weight with the court if they are older or if they are clearly capable of expressing their preferences in a clear and well-reasoned manner. Likewise, a greater emphasis will be placed on the preferences of you and your former spouse if your preferences are not largely at odds with each other.
Your Ability to Care for Your Child is a Major Factor
It is nearly impossible to judge someone's fitness as a parent over a single court case, but the judge will be forced to weigh the evidence as best as they can in order to determine which parent is in the best position to care for the child. This will involve considering a huge number of seemingly unrelated factors, from income and work schedules to family relationships and living arrangements. Unfortunately, this is an area that most people will have little control over. While judges will generally avoid holding a lower income or smaller living area against either parent, they will be forced to consider you and your former spouse's ability to pay for your child's basic needs and the amount of that child support payments can make up for any shortfalls.
Drastic Changes to Living Arrangements Are Usually Viewed Poorly
People often radically alter their lives following a divorce and this can sometimes involve moving several cities or even states away. Most courts prefer to avoid drastic changes to a child's circumstances, especially if the child is particular young. These changes may include moving far from other relatives or being forced to change schools. Changes such as this are sometimes unavoidable, but when all else is equal a judge will often favor the parent who can provide stability and consistency for the child. This is especially true in cases where some form of joint custody is on the table, as one parent moving far away can be viewed as an attempt to prevent equitable arrangements from being made.
The sheer number of considerations that affect the outcome of a child custody case are the primary reason why going it alone is often a poor idea. A good family law lawyer can help you to navigate the process and recommend any changes that may increase your chances of a favorable outcome. Your lawyer can also help you to identify problem areas so that you are prepared to address them should they come up in court.