When divorcing parents come into court for a decision on parenting arrangements, judges in Nevada base their decisions solely on the best interests of the child. The parents’ preferences are important, but neither the mother nor the father begins with any greater right to custody. Judges can consider any factor relevant to parenting, and are guided by factors that are set out in the state’s laws—generally falling into the following basic categories:
A judge will consider any facts that may affect a child’s health or safety. This includes each parent’s willingness and ability to meet the child’s basic physical needs. A parent’s physical or mental health could be a factor if it affects the parent’s ability to care for the child. If a parent has previously abducted a child; has a history of abuse or neglect of the child or a sibling; or has a history of violence against the child, the child’s other parent, or any person living with the child, the court may deny custody and limit visitation, or may order visitation to be supervised by a neutral party.
Emotional factors include the strength of the relationship between the child and each parent, and each parent’s ability to meet the child’s emotional and developmental needs. A parent’s physical or mental health may be a factor if it affects the parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs. Courts favor arrangements which keep siblings together. If a judge finds that a child is old enough and mature enough to make an intelligent choice, then the judge may allow the child to state a preference as to custody.
Nevada law places a strong emphasis on the ability of each parent to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent. Unless there is good reason to believe that contact with the other parent is likely to be harmful to the child, the law requires each parent to support frequent contact with the other. A court will also consider each parent’s ability to communicate and cooperate with the other parent, particularly when assessing whether or not joint custody would be appropriate.
Custody consists of both legal custody, which refers to a parent’s responsibility for making major decisions concerning a child’s health, education, or general welfare; and physical custody, which refers to the child’s physical residence with a parent. Nevada law favors joint custody if the parents have agreed to it, unless there is evidence of domestic violence or some other indication that the parents will not be successful in working together for the benefit of their child. A judge granting joint legal custody may also grant joint physical custody or may instead decide that it is better for the child to have one primary residence and spend specified periods of time at the home of the other parent. If the parents are unable to agree on a parenting arrangement, they may attend mediation, where a neutral third party will help them to develop a plan. In larger counties, such as Clark or Washoe County, the law requires courts to provide mediation in custody and visitation disputes, and parents are required to attend unless one parent has a history of child abuse or domestic violence.