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The paramount consideration in child custody cases is to foster the best interests of the child. This standard has been described as one that protects the safety, happiness, physical, mental and moral welfare of the child. It would be incongruous and counterproductive to restrict application of this standard to the relief requested by the parties to a custody dispute. Accordingly, a sua sponte custody determination is properly within the discretion of the trial court provided it is supported by the record.
Plaintiff father filed for divorce and visitation. The trial court, sua sponte, granted the parties joint legal and physical custody of their two adopted female children, finding such an arrangement to be in the best interests of the children. On appeal by the defendant-wife, the appellate court reversed and remanded the custody decree with directions to award defendant mother sole custody.
Did the appellate court correctly reverse the trial court’s decision to grant custody of the children to both parents?
The court reversed the appellate court and remanded for a hearing on whether, after two years of proceedings, joint custody was still in the best interests of the children. The court held joint custody was an available alternative and that the trial court's conclusions on the best interests of the children should not have been reversed as sufficient credible evidence in the record supported the trial court's findings. The court held, before it awarded joint custody, the trial court properly considered whether the children had a relationship with both parents such that they would have benefitted from joint custody and whether both parents were fit to be a parent. Although the children expressed a preference for defendant to have sole custody, the court held the record supported the trial court's findings as the children were of a tender age and there was evidence defendant influenced their views.