Divorce is never easy, but when parents separate, the stakes are even higher. In some cases, couples can agree on a custody arrangement that works for the whole family, but when a relationship has become too acrimonious for discussion, the court may make those decisions.

While many people assume that the law automatically gives the mother preference in a child custody dispute, that is not the case in Mississippi. In the 1983 case Albright v. Albright, the State Supreme Court ruled that both parents should receive equal consideration when determining both legal and physical custody.

What factors may affect who gets custody?

During a custody hearing, the court’s primary goal is to determine the best interest of the child. There are 12 factors that Mississippi family courts use to make custody decisions. These factors include both the impact on the child and the ability of either parent to provide emotional and financial support. In addition to the child’s age, health and sex, the court’s considerations may include:

  • Emotional bonds between child and parent
  • The child’s past experiences in their home, school and community
  • Whether a parent has demonstrated responsible care
  • Whether a parent has the ability and willingness to provide primary care
  • The mental and physical health of each parent
  • The employment responsibilities of each parent
  • The stability of each parent’s employment and home environment

However, it is important to keep in mind that these factors are only a guide for the court. Depending on the specific circumstances, certain elements may carry more weight in determining custody. The court may also consider any number of items relevant to the child’s well-being and interests.

Do custody decisions have to go to court?

Divorce is often a traumatic experience for families. While bitter emotions may make it difficult to focus on the future, it is important to remember that custody decisions may have a profound impact that lasts a child’s whole life. In some cases, a third-party negotiator may help feuding partners to settle on an arrangement works without going through the stress and emotional pressure of a court custody hearing.