The Family Court and the Domestic Relations Court are courts of equity. In plain terms the idea of "equity" is doing what is right, whereas "law" is doing what is legal, or what the law dictates. Equity usually functions in those areas where there is no law to tell the court specifically what to do. Equity is also meant to function in those areas where perhaps hard and fast rules are not practical. In custody cases situations are different for every family. School, work, church and other schedules present different challenges in each case. A standardized visitation schedule does not fit every case. This simple fact has led many to believe that the court should have unlimited discretion to craft any custody/visitation schedule it desires. Unfortunately, discretion without guidelines has let to judicial decisions that accommodate the convenience of one party over another. Other considerations have crept in as well that have been elevated above the best interests of children. A tradition that stability is best achieved by geographical considerations as opposed to family relationships has become common. This tradition, despite having been debunked, continues to guide many judges. Additionally, placing emphasis on sibling relationships to the detriment of parent child relationships has caused suffering. Without legal guidelines judges have looked to other sources for guidance. Legal standards are needed in child custody matters to function much like sentencing guidelines do in criminal matters. Guidelines and standards are needed to ensure that fit parents are treated like fit parents and unfit parents are treated like unfit parents. Guidelines and standards will better ensure just and consistent outcomes. Clear legal guidelines should guide equity.
Austin is an experienced litigation and constitutional law attorney.
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