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." "Best interests" has a particular meaning in family law when making arrangements for children. In this article we will discuss the significance and meaning of the phrase.
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, some factors are common in this analysis in most custody situations:
- Wishes of the child (if old enough to capably express a reasonable preference);
- Mental and physical health of the parents;
- If a child has special needs, how does each parent take care of those needs;
- Religion and/or cultural considerations;
- 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 extended family of either parent such as grandparents;
- Interaction and interrelationship with other members of household;
- Adjustment to school and community;
- Age and sex of child;
- Is there 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, best interests determinations are generally made by 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.
Hiring a Family Law Attorney
Child custody and visitation laws are constantly changing -- especially regarding the best interests of a child. It's important to consider consulting a lawyer who specializes in family law for advice. A family law attorney can assist you in taking the right approach to child custody and visitation. Child custody laws vary widely by state, and your attorney can help explain your state's rules to you. Most offer free consultations, so your first step should be to contact an experienced family attorney.