Thank you for your question. The first question in a transfer of custody is not what is in the best interest of the child
, but whether there has been a change of circumstances since the original custody order was entered. Look at it this way. After child custody
is determined by a court order in divorce
proceedings on the basis of the best interest of the child, the judge, in effect, states, “That’s it. I determined the custody of the child once and that was done on the basis of what is in the best interest of the child. (And this holds true whether the judge’s determination was based on a trial, or the parties’ agreement.) Now, if you want custody changed, you are going to have to show me (the judge) there has been a change of circumstances.” In a change of custody proceedings, you must prove that since the original custody judgment was entered a change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or the custodian. You must also prove that a change of custody is necessary to serve the best interest of the child. You must prove this by “clear and convincing evidence.” Ordinarily proof must be by a “preponderance of the evidence.” Clear and convincing evidence is a higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence. There is a strong bias in favor of the custodial parent
only because the court wishes for the child/children's lives to be stable. Examples of facts that would be sufficient to show a change of circumstances sufficient to bring about a change of custody:Significant drop in the child’s school performance.Significant health problems due to the custodial parent’s neglect.Development of significant social/psychological problems by the child.Substantial neglect of the child by the custodial parent, such as leaving the child home alone, or neglecting the child so the child becomes injured.Exposing the child to what the judge may consider to be immoral conduct.I think you have named a number of factors that are of concern -physical and mental abuse, plying your girls with alcohol, the fact that one of your daughter's mental health has been affected to the point where she was considering taking her own life. While the court may consider the wishes of the girls (especially as they are older and at a more mature age) their wishes are not binding on the court. The judge still has final say. Usually the court will order an investigation/evaluation of the issue of custody, with recommendations to be made to the judge. These studies usually include psychological testing of the parents and may include a psychological evaluation of the parents and often also include psychological evaluation of the children. Sometimes the judge will appoint a lawyer to represent the children as well. It's not the easiest thing to get a change of custody because as I mentioned, the court favors stability in the lives of the children whenever possible. I do think you p oint to some significant issues, but this is still something that you would want to discuss with an attorney and consider having a lawyer representing you in. If you need further information or clarification, please use the REPLY feature, I'll be happy to assist you. Thank you.