Maintaining the "best interests of the child" is a legal standard that any parent involved in child custody proceedings will need to know and understand. In general terms, a court will decide what type of custody plan will be most beneficial to the child and provide necessary stability after the divorce or separation of the child's parents. A parent who wishes to retain custody of their child will need to demonstrate to the court that they can provide what is in the child's best interests.
The court will look at a parent's relationship with the child to determine what is in the child's best interests. Generally, the court will look to see if the parent had a significant, caring relationship with the child, and that a continuing relationship is the best way to maintain constancy in the child's life. The court will evaluate a parent's life in its entirety. Lack of contact with or aggressive behavior toward to the child or the other parent will adversely affect a parent's chances of retaining custody.
If a parent is unable to have physical custody of the child it may be important to retain joint legal custody. Legal custody provides a parent the right to help make decisions in regard to the health, education and welfare of the child. On the other hand, physical custody refers to the parent's right to have the child live with the parent.
While joint legal custody may mean a parent is separated from the child for a time, it does prevent the parent with physical custody from making unilateral decisions regarding the child's welfare. It is an important way for a parent to maintain a relationship with and play a significant role in the child's life.
In Wisconsin, most custody issues go to mediation first. Mediation can help parents control the outcome of the custody dispute, save time and money and take away the stress of court appearances. Skilled family law attorneys can help parents understand the benefits of mediation, and reach a goal that will be in the child's best interest. However, if the custody issue must go to trial, the decision will likely be put in the hands of the judge based on the case presented by each party.
Source: Huffington Post, "How To Divorce: How Do I Get Joint Custody?" Joseph Cordell, May 14, 2012