Parents may resolve a child custody matter out-of-court through negotiation and agreement. If they can't, a court will have to decide the issue. But either way, finding the solution that's in the child's "best interests" should be paramount.
But what does "the child's best interest" mean? It may seem straightforward, but the term has a particular meaning in family law.
Read on to learn more about the best interests of the child standard. The article will explain the doctrine and the factors courts use when applying it.
The Child's Best Interests in Custody Cases
Custody and visitation decisions should center on the child's "best interests." That means making the child's growth into young adulthood the top priority. Parents and courts should consider factors such as the child's:
- Mental health
- Emotional development
Generally, the child should have a close and loving relationship with both parents. But promoting such relationships is difficult in an emotional and contentious dispute.
You must focus on making decisions in your child's best interest. The choices you or a court make now will affect your child's development. They will also impact your relationship with your child in many crucial ways for years to come.
What Factors Determine the Child's Best Interests?
But what, exactly, is the child's best interest standard? It isn't easy to define. The different sides in a custody dispute often have different perspectives. That can lead to an honest disagreement over what's best for the child. The good news is that there are some common factors we can use in most custody situations, such as the following:
- The child's wishes (whether a state considers the child's wishes and at what age varies by state)
- The mental and physical health of the parents
- Any special needs a child may have and how each parent takes care of those needs
- Religious or cultural considerations
- The need for continuing a stable home environment
- Other children whose custody is relevant to this child's custody arrangement
- The child's opportunity to interact with their extended family, such as grandparents
- Interactions and interrelationships with other members of the household
- Adjustments to school and community
- The age and sex of the child
- Whether there is a pattern of domestic violence in the home
- Parental use of excessive discipline or emotional abuse
- Evidence of parental drug, alcohol, or child/sex abuse
How Courts Use the Factors
Courts don't look at one factor when making a best-interest decision. It will instead consider all the factors related to the child's circumstances. The court will also consider the parent or caregiver's capacity to parent. Ultimately, the court's paramount concern is the child's safety and happiness.
Find the Right Attorney for Your Child Custody Case
Even though you understand what's in your child's best interests, the court has the final say. Hiring a child custody attorney is the best way to promote your child's best interest during a complex court proceeding.