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Child Custody: Summaries of State Laws

State law varies considerably with respect to divorce. States have differing residency requirements, property rules, and spousal support provisions.

 
AlabamaKentuckyNorth Dakota
AlaskaLouisianaOhio
ArizonaMaineOklahoma
ArkansasMarylandOregon
CaliforniaMassachusettsPennsylvania
ColoradoMichiganRhode Island
ConnecticutMinnesotaSouth Carolina
DelawareMississippiSouth Dakota
District of ColumbiaMissouriTennessee
FloridaMontanaTexas
GeorgiaNebraskaUtah
HawaiiNevadaVermont
IdahoNew HampshireVirginia
IllinoisNew JerseyWashington
IndianaNew YorkWest Virginia
IowaNew MexicoWisconsin
KansasNorth CarolinaWyoming

Alabama. Both parents have an equal right to the custody of their children. Under Alabama law, a court may consider an award of joint custody, whereby the parental rights of both parties remain intact, with one parent as the primary custodian of the children and the other as the secondary custodian. Under this arrangement, both parents remain involved in the decision making responsibilities regarding the children, with each parent having "tie breaking" authority regarding certain issues, such as education, health and dental care, religion, civic and cultural activities, and athletic involvement.

Alaska. The court determines custody in accordance with the best interests of the child and may consider all relevant factors. Domestic violence may be considered contrary to the best interest of the child. There is no presumption in favor of sole custody or joint custody. Joint custody may be ordered if both parents agree and submit a written parenting plan and such joint custody is in the child's best interest.

Arizona. There is no presumption in favor of joint custody. Joint custody may be granted if both parents agree, the parents submit a parenting plan, and the order is in the child's best interests. Evidence of domestic violence must be considered contrary to the best interests of the child. In determining the best interests of the child, the court can consider: the wishes of the child's parents; the wishes of the child; the interaction among the child and relatives; the child's adjustment to school, home, and community; the mental and physical health of the parties; which parent is more likely to involve the child in the life of the other parent; if either parent has been the primary care giver; the nature and extent of coercion used by a parent in obtaining a written agreement regarding custody; whether either parent has complied with an order to attend domestic relations education. The non-custodial parent is entitled to reasonable visitation, which shall not be restricted unless the court finds serious endangerment to the child.

Arkansas. The court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child.

California. There is no presumption in favor of joint or sole custody; custody shall be awarded to both parents jointly or to either parent as is in the best interests of the child. However, where the parties agree to joint custody, then joint custody shall be presumed to be in the best interests of the child. In awarding custody, the court shall consider which parent is more likely to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.

Colorado. Joint custody, with one parent designated residential custodian, may be awarded when the parties submit a parenting plan. If no plan is submitted, the court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child.

Connecticut. If the parents agree to joint custody, then it is presumed that joint custody is in the best interests of the child, and the court must state its reasons for denial of joint custody. The court may award joint legal custody with primary physical custody to one parent. Visitation may be granted to grandparents or any person if it is in the child's best interests.

Delaware.

District of Columbia. There is no presumption as to the form of legal custody. The court may order frequent and continuing contact between each party and the child. The court's order shall be based on the best interests of the child. The court can consider the wishes of the parents, the wishes of the child, the interaction and interrelationship among all family members, the mental and physical health of all parties, the capacity of the parties to communicate, the demands of parental employment, the age and number of children, the parents' financial ability to support the custody arrangement and the impact of governmental assistance.

Florida. The court must order that parental responsibility for a minor child be shared by both parents, unless it is detrimental to the child. The court may grant to one party the ultimate responsibility over specific aspects of the child's welfare. The court shall order sole parental responsibility with or without visitation to the other parent when it is in the best interests of the child. The court may order rotating custody.

Georgia. The court may award joint custody and may consider agreements of the parties, if they are in the best interests of the child. The court shall award custody as in the best interests of the child. If a child is 14 years old or older, the child shall have the right to select the parent with whom he desires to live, and such selection shall be controlling unless the parent is not fit. The court may consider family violence in making a decision. Visitation shall be ordered unless there is a history of family violence.

Hawaii. Custody is determined according to the best interests of the child. If a child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason, so as to form an intelligent preference, the child's wishes can be considered. Joint custody may be awarded in the discretion of the court. Visitation may be awarded to grandparents or any person interested in the welfare of the child.

Idaho.

Illinois. There is no presumption for or against joint custody. Custody is determined based on the best interests of the child, considering the parents' and the child's wishes.

Indiana. Joint custody may be awarded if it is in the child's best interests. The relevant factors for determining custody are the parents' and child's wishes, the interaction and relationship of the child with any person who may significantly affect his or her best interests; the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, and a pattern of domestic violence.

Iowa. If either party requests joint custody, there is a presumption of joint custody. If the court does not grant joint custody, it must clearly state its reasons why joint custody is not in the best interests of the child. Joint custody does not necessarily require joint physical care. Physical care shall be awarded as is in the best interests of the child.

Kansas.

Kentucky. The court may grant joint custody to the child's parents if it is in the child's best interests. The court may not consider conduct of a custodian that does not affect his or her relationship to the child, nor may it consider abandonment of the family residence if it was to avoid physical harm.

Louisiana. The court shall award custody in accordance with the parents' agreement, unless the best interests of the child require otherwise. If there is no agreement or if the agreement is not in the best interests of the child, the court shall award joint custody, unless custody by one parent is shown by clear and convincing evidence to serve the child's best interests. Factors for determining the child's best interests include a stable environment and the primary caretaker preference. The parent not awarded custody is entitled to reasonable visitation.

Maine. When the parties have agreed to shared parental rights and responsibilities, the court shall make such an award absent substantial evidence that it should not be ordered. In making an award of parental rights and responsibilities, the court applies the best interests of the child standard. The court may not apply a preference for one parent over the other on account of either parent's gender or the child's age and gender. The court may order grandparent or third party visitation.

Maryland. The court may award joint custody or sole custody. The court shall deny custody to a party if the court has reasonable grounds to believe that the party abused or neglected the child and that there is a likelihood of further abuse or neglect.

Massachusetts. Each parent must submit to the court a shared custody implementation plan. The court may modify or grant the plan. The court may reject the plan and award sole custody to one parent.

Michigan. Custody is awarded based on the best interests of the child, based on the following factors: moral character and prudence of the parents; physical, emotional, mental, religious and social needs of the child; capability and desire of each parent to meet the child's emotional, educational, and other needs; preference of the child, if the child is of sufficient age and maturity; the love and affection and other emotional ties existing between the child and each parent; the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; the desire and ability of each parent to allow an open and loving frequent relationship between the child and other parent; the child's adjustment to his/her home, school, and community; the mental and physical health of all parties; permanence of the family unit of the proposed custodial home; any evidence of domestic violence; and other factors. There is a joint custody presumption if the parties agree to joint custody. The court may also award joint custody if one party requests joint custody and the court finds it to be in the best interests of the child. In deciding whether to grant joint custody, the court shall consider all of the above factors plus whether the parents will be able to cooperate; whether the parents have agreed to joint custody.

Minnesota. If both parents request joint custody, there is a presumption that such an arrangement is in the best interests of the child, unless there has been spousal abuse. Sole custody can be awarded based on the best interests of the child. Additional visitation may be ordered for wrongful denial or interference with visitation orders.

Mississippi. Custody is determined based on the best interests of the child. Joint custody may be awarded if both parents request joint custody, and if they so request joint custody, there is a presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of the child. The court may order any of the following: Joint physical custody to one or both parents, with legal custody to one or both parents; physical custody to both parents, with legal custody to one parent; physical custody to one parent, with legal custody to both parents; custody to a third party if the parents have abandoned the child or are unfit.

Missouri. The court determines custody based on the best interests of the child. Custody can be joint legal, joint physical, sole legal, sole physical, or any combination. An award of joint custody is encouraged.

Montana. Each parent is required to submit, either jointly or separately, a proposed "parenting plan." Sole or joint parenting is awarded based on the best interests of the child.

Nebraska. The court makes a custody determination based on the best interests of the child, which include the relationship of the child to each parent; (b) the desires and wishes of the child; the general health, welfare, and social behavior of the child; credible evidence of any abuse in the household. Joint custody may be awarded when both parents agree to such an arrangement.

Nevada. Best interests of the child is the standard. The court awards custody in the following order of preference unless in a particular case the best interest of the child requires otherwise: to both parents jointly or to either parent; to a person or persons in whose home the child has been living and where the child has had a wholesome and stable environment; to any person related within the third degree of consanguinity; to any other person or persons whom the court finds suitable and able to provide proper care. In determining the best interests of the child, the court considers: the wishes of the child if the child is of sufficient age and maturity; any nomination by a parent for a guardian; whether either parent has engaged in domestic violence. A finding of domestic violence creates a rebuttable presumption that custody would not be appropriate by the perpetrator.

New Hampshire. Joint legal custody is presumed to be in the best interests of the child, unless the child has been abused by one of the parents. Custody is awarded based on preference of the child, education of the child, findings and recommendations of a neutral mediator, and other factors.

New Jersey . Sole or joint custody may be awarded based on the needs of the child. There is no preference for either parent and no preference for joint custody.

New Mexico.

New York. Joint or sole custody is determined according to the best interests of the child. Neither parent is entitled to a preference.

North Carolina. Joint or sole child custody is determined according to the interests and welfare of the child. There is no presumption that either parent is better suited to have custody. The court considers all relevant factors, including acts of domestic violence and the safety of the child.

North Dakota.

Ohio. If at least one parent requests shared parenting and files a plan that is in the child's best interests and approved by the court, the court may allocate parental rights and responsibilities of the child to both parents and issue a shared parenting order. Otherwise, the court, consistent with the child's best interests, allocates parental rights and responsibilities primarily to one parent.

Oklahoma.

Oregon. The court may order joint custody if the parents agree, but if one parent objects, the court cannot order joint custody. An order for joint custody may specify one home as the primary residence of the child and designate one parent to have sole power to make decisions regarding specific matters while both parents retain equal rights and responsibilities for other matters. When ordering sole custody, the court can consider the conduct, marital status, income, social environment or lifestyle of either party only if it is shown that these factors are causing or may cause damage to the child. Any person who has established emotional ties creating a parent/child relationship with a child may petition for custody, placement, or visitation.

Pennsylvania.

Rhode Island.

South Carolina.

South Dakota.

Tennessee.  

Texas. Joint or sole custody is determined according to the best interests of the child. The court considers the best interests of the children deciding upon the terms and conditions of the rights of the parent with visitation.

Utah. The court considers the best interests of the child along with the past conduct and demonstrated moral standards of the parties. There is a presumption that a spouse who has been abandoned is entitled to custody. State law contains advisory guidelines for visitation schedules, broken down by age of the child.

Vermont.

Virginia.  

Washington.

West Virginia. There is a presumption in favor of the parent who has been the primary caretaker of the child. There is no provision for joint custody.

Wisconsin.

Wyoming.

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