Focusing on the "Best Interests" of the Child
Whether parents and their attorneys resolve a child custody matter out-of-court through negotiation and agreement, or the custody decision is made by a family court judge, the overriding focus in any custody case should always be on a solution that is in the child's "best interests." This term has a particular meaning in family law when making arrangements for children.
Read on to learn more about the "best interests" of the child standard and the factors that courts look to when applying this standard.
The Child's Best Interests in Custody Cases
In the context of child custody cases, focusing on the child's "best interests" means that all custody and visitation discussions and decisions are made with the ultimate goal of fostering and encouraging the child's happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development into young adulthood. Generally speaking, it's often in the child's best interests to maintain a close and loving relationship with both parents, but the practicalities of promoting and maintaining such relationships can be the main challenge in resolving a child custody dispute.
In any custody conflict it's crucial that you not lose sight of the importance of making decisions in the best interests of your children. The choices you make now (or the decisions a court makes for you) will affect your child's development, as well as your relationship with them, in a number of crucial ways for years to come.
What Factors Determine the Child's Best Interests?
Although the best interests standard can be hard to define in some situations, there are some common factors that are part of this analysis in most custody situations, such as the following:
- The wishes of the child (if old enough to capably express a reasonable preference);
- 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 and/or cultural considerations;
- The need for continuation of stable home environment;
- Other children whose custody is relevant to this child's custody arrangement;
- Support and opportunity for interaction with members of the extended family of either parent (such as grandparents);
- Interactions and interrelationships with other members of 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; and
- Evidence of parental drug, alcohol or child/sex abuse.
Remember, courts don't just look at one factor, but instead take a more holistic approach. Their best interests determinations are generally made after considering a number of factors related to the child's circumstances and the parent or caregiver's circumstances and capacity to parent, with the child's ultimate safety and happiness being the paramount concern.
Find the Right Attorney for Your Child Custody Case
Even though you understand what's in the best interests of your child, ultimately the court will have the final say. The best way to both express your concerns about your child's wellbeing and work within the constraints of the court system is to work with an attorney. If you haven't already lawyered-up, you can get started by searching for an experienced child custody attorney near you.