Can a mother lose custody even if the child is still very young?
Are there any situations where a mother can lose custody even if their child is still very young (e.g., under 5 years old)?
Oh, heck yeah. Many possible situations. Rather than identify all the various ways that a mother of a young child could lose or not be awarded sole or primary custody of that child or children, let’s just examine the basis for determining whether a parent keeps, wins, or is deprived of custody of a child. All states have slightly different criteria but these criteria all come down to this: parental fitness.
Parental fitness is evaluated in the contexts of a parent’s desire and ability to provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs and welfare.
In Utah, where I practice family law and go to hearings and trials over child custody disputes, the factors the court must consider and factors that the court can consider when determining whether to award sole or joint custody are contained in these sections of the Utah Code and the Utah Rules of Judicial Administration:
(a) evidence of domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, involving the child, the parent, or a household member of the parent;
(b) the parent’s demonstrated understanding of, responsiveness to, and ability to meet the developmental needs of the child, including the child’s:
(i) physical needs;
(ii) emotional needs;
(iii) educational needs;
(iv) medical needs; and
(v) any special needs;
(c) the parent’s capacity and willingness to function as a parent, including:
(i) parenting skills;
(ii) co-parenting skills, including:
(A) ability to appropriately communicate with the other parent;
(B) ability to encourage the sharing of love and affection; and
(C) willingness to allow frequent and continuous contact between the child and the other parent, except that, if the court determines that the parent is acting to protect the child from domestic violence, neglect, or abuse, the parent’s protective actions may be taken into consideration; and
(iii) ability to provide personal care rather than surrogate care;
(d) in accordance with Subsection (10), the past conduct and demonstrated moral character of the parent;
(e) the emotional stability of the parent;
(f) the parent’s inability to function as a parent because of drug abuse, excessive drinking, or other causes;
(g) whether the parent has intentionally exposed the child to pornography or material harmful to minors, as “material” and “harmful to minors” are defined in Section 76-10-1201;
(h) the parent’s reasons for having relinquished custody or parent-time in the past;
(i) duration and depth of desire for custody or parent-time;
(j) the parent’s religious compatibility with the child;
(k) the parent’s financial responsibility;
(l) the child’s interaction and relationship with step-parents, extended family members of other individuals who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
(m) who has been the primary caretaker of the child;
(n) previous parenting arrangements in which the child has been happy and well-adjusted in the home, school, and community;
(o) the relative benefit of keeping siblings together;
(p) the stated wishes and concerns of the child, taking into consideration the child’s cognitive ability and emotional maturity;
(q) the relative strength of the child’s bond with the parent, meaning the depth, quality, and nature of the relationship between the parent and the child; and
(r) any other factor the court finds relevant.
(a) whether the physical, psychological, and emotional needs and development of the child will benefit from joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both;
(b) the ability of the parents to give first priority to the welfare of the child and reach shared decisions in the child’s best interest;
(c) co-parenting skills, including:
(i) ability to appropriately communicate with the other parent;
(ii) ability to encourage the sharing of love and affection; and
(iii) willingness to allow frequent and continuous contact between the child and the other parent, except that, if the court determines that the parent is acting to protect the child from domestic violence, neglect, or abuse, the parent’s protective actions may be taken into consideration; and
(d) whether both parents participated in raising the child before the divorce;
(e) the geographical proximity of the homes of the parents;
(f) the preference of the child if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both;
(g) the maturity of the parents and their willingness and ability to protect the child from conflict that may arise between the parents;
(h) the past and present ability of the parents to cooperate with each other and make decisions jointly; and
(i) any other factor the court finds relevant.
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