Custody disputes cause parents, especially mothers, to examine all facets of their lives to prepare for the other parent’s claims. It is natural and normal to worry about anything that does not seem perfect.
Any parent knows that when you have children, very little is perfect in your home or life. Every day is a balancing act where we make choices to keep all the plates spinning at one time.
Neither parent can lose custody for simply not having a job. In fact, parenting time is not contingent on financial resources.
Other factors related to joblessness, like unstable housing, can impact a parent’s custody. Read on to learn about the factors that the court may consider when deciding custody.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney in your state if you have questions or believe you have a legal situation.
- What Happens In Child Custody Cases?
- Child Custody Law
- How Does Employment Impact The Best Interests Of The Child?
- Failure To Pay Child Support
- Final Words
What Happens In Child Custody Cases?
If you are worried about losing custody, the first thing you need to know is how child custody cases work. There are two main types of cases: those between the parents, and those where the state is involved as a party.
Cases Between Parents
The most common type of child custody cases are those that are between parents, called voluntary cases. They can be part of a divorce proceeding or a standalone case between never-married parents.
They are called voluntary because one of the parents filed the paperwork with the court to initiate the case.
The exact process and procedure vary by state, but the basic premise holds true across the country. You and the other parent can hopefully reach an agreement that the court can turn into a court order.
Alternatively, the court, via the judge, will decide what happens in your case. This happens after a hearing where each party can present evidence and witnesses
In a hearing, you will each try to present your facts to provide that the law supports what you want. The things that you are asking for are your proposed parenting time schedule and decision-making allocation.
Some child custody cases are brought by the state. This happens when there are concerns about the safety of the child.
In these types of cases, the court will be considering a number of things, but the most important is where the child will live. In involuntary cases, the state may be requesting that a child be placed in foster care or with a non-parent family member.
The most serious consequence is the termination of the parent-child relationship. If that happens, your child is no longer legally your child. You will be unable to see them.
Involuntary cases are usually lengthy and involve mandatory parental education and regimented parenting time schedules. Experts will likely be involved to evaluate the safety and ability of a parent. Parents involved in termination cases have the right to an attorney.
Child Custody Law
The next thing to consider is how the child custody laws of your state apply to your situation. Child custody cases determine the parenting time schedule and decision-making duties of the parents.
When you are in court, the judge does not care about your feelings or opinions. Rather, the judge’s job is to apply the law to your situation. This means the judge wants to know the facts related to you and your ex’s parenting.
Best Interests Of The Child
All states use the same standard in custody cases: the best interests of the child. This means that when deciding what should happen moving forward, the judge should do so with the best interests of the child in mind.
Each state defines what factors go into that best interests determination. That may be done through a specific set of factors or through a statement of overarching goals.
To know exactly how your state sets the determination, look up your state’s child custody laws on FindLaw.com. Remember that the state laws are subject to the interpretation of the judge in your case.
Currently, 22 states have statutes that specifically identify the factors that the court should consider when determining the best interest. This means that the judge would analyze what combination of parenting time would maximize these elements.
Here are some of the common factors:
- The importance of family integrity and preference for avoiding the removal of the child from his or her home.
- The health, safety, and protection of the child.
- The emotional ties the child has with parents and other family members.
- The capacity of the parent to provide a safe home and adequate food, clothing, and shelter.
- The mental and physical health needs of a child.
- The presence of domestic violence in the home.
- Parties’ ability to encourage the child’s love toward the other parent.
You will notice that employment is not one of the factors. No state conditions parenting time on a parent’s employment.
How Does Employment Impact The Best Interests Of The Child?
Remember, stay-at-home mothers have been a part of American culture for decades. Increasingly, stay-at-home fathers are becoming more and more common.
Of course, being involuntarily unemployed is different from being an intentionally stay-at-home parent. Generally, parents who intentionally stay at home have the financial security to let them be at home without a job.
This may be due to an inheritance, family wealth, or passive income. In this type of situation, your unemployment is unlikely to have any impact on your custody case.
More commonly, a mother is unemployed without sufficient wealth or income. The consequences of that unemployment may indeed impact the best interests of the child determination.
Unemployment And The Best Interests Of The Child
If a mother’s unemployment is long-term or re-employment seems uncertain, it can start weighing the factors in the other parent’s favor. Ultimately, the court will want to know how this impacts the child.
Unemployed mothers who can demonstrate stability through living with their own parents can mitigate many of the concerns. The court most cares that a child is physically and mentally safe. Grandparents in the home provide additional support and close ties for the child.
Unemployment with job prospects and sufficient savings to provide housing and to meet the child’s care needs is similarly unconcerned. For example, a judge is unlikely to care if a doctor in good standing is currently unemployed. There is an assumption they can secure new work.
What is concerning, and will weaken an unemployed mother’s case, is habitual unemployment with little hope for finding a job. Lack of efforts to secure a job is equally troubling.
This concern does not, or at least it’s not supposed to, come from a moral judgment about unemployment or the industry of labor. Rather, it is about the consequences of long-term unemployment.
Long-term unemployment often leads to housing instability. This is not only homelessness but the need to move frequently to avoid eviction or because of eviction.
Being a victim of domestic violence is not in itself a negative factor. Remaining in a home where child witnesses or may become a victim themselves is a major factor.
Unemployment In Involuntary Custody Cases
When the state initiates a child custody proceeding, there is often a long-drawn-out process to supervise a parent’s fitness. It is almost like a performance plan.
The intention is to reunify the parent and child. To do this, the parent needs to get back on the right path of safely parenting.
One part of the path to reunification may be securing housing. Unless a person can obtain some type of public benefit, that may be impossible without a job.
Failure to meet this goal can cause the case to extend for years. During this time, the child may be in foster care or placed with another family member.
Failure To Pay Child Support
One natural consequence of unemployment is an inability to pay child support. If you are ordered to pay child support and lose your job, it is important to be proactive.
Immediately research the process in your state for modifying the child support order. The court may issue a new order to reflect your lower income.
A core tenet of family law in the United States is that both parents should have continuous and frequent contact with the child. This is assuming both parents are safe for the child, of course.
As such, parenting time is not conditioned upon the payment of child support. This means that the other parent may not withhold time with the child because money was not paid.
The court and state child support agencies have many other consequences they can enact, but taking away your child is not one of them.
Fortunately, no state makes a parent’s employment a condition for time with their child. Only the consequences of unemployment may cause a mother to lose custody.
Mothers experiencing unemployment need to be prepared to demonstrate to the court that they will provide stability to their child. Ultimately, the child’s well-being, not the mother’s ability or desire to work, is the concern.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I worked in the accounting field. I am also a Certified Food Handler. My goal is to be an informative source for any topic that relates to mom’s life and homemaking.