Determining the best interest of a child is an important aspect in resolving a custody case, whether it is an original action or a modification. Parents will often disagree on custody terms, leaving it up to a judge to decide what would best serve the child in a legal case.
Understanding what defines a child’s “best interest” and the factors that are taken into consideration will help guide you through this process.
Defining the Best Interest of the Child
What is in the best interest of the child boils down to decisions that support a child’s security, well being, happiness, and emotional development. These factors influence the arrangements that are made regarding visitation and custody arrangements, whether they are obtained through an agreement or a judge’s decision.
It’s easy to overlook the interest of the child when going through a difficult divorce or other legal proceeding. But parents must remember that the custodial decisions reached at the conclusion of their case will have a significant impact on their relationships with, and the development of, their child.
Parent Factors That Are Considered
Many parents disagree as to what is in the best interest of their child. However, there are factors that will guide them, as well as judges, in creating the proper custodial arrangement for the parents’ child.
The physical and mental health of each parent should be taken into account. Such a consideration will help a judge determine each parent’s ability to provide the proper care for the child’s future. This is especially true in cases where a child possesses special needs that require additional care.
The stability of each parents’ home is also an important factor. A judge wants to be certain that the custodial parent can provide the child with the necessary food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care. When custody is shared between two parents, a judge will want to make certain that their child is disrupted as little as possible. Maintaining a comfortable and stable home minimizes disruptions and helps to meet the child’s needs.
Each parent’s willingness and ability to promote a relationship between the child and the other parent also contributes to the best interest of the child. When one parent is interfering, or alienating, a child against the other parent is viewed to be greatly against the best interest of the child.
Challenges to a Child’s Best Interest
There are some parent factors that may negatively impact a child’s wellbeing. Each parent’s employment schedule is considered. If a parent works at night, the availability to take care of a child during waking hours will be called into question.
The type of relationship that a child has with step-siblings or half-siblings, whether positive or negative, may also impact what is in the child’s best interest.
The use of drugs and alcohol by parents will further influence a judge’s decision. A judge may require periodic drug tests during the custody litigation and require one or both parents to submit to drug tests after the case is completed.
A judge may appoint an independent person to represent the child’s interests – a guardian ad litem (or “guardian”). The guardian will perform an investigation by talking to the each of the parents, observing the child with each of the parents, reviewing evidence, and talking to witnesses in order to make a custody recommendation to the judge; however, the guardian’s recommendation is not binding on the judge who does not have to follow those recommendations when making a decision.
Ultimately, the child’s wellbeing and safety are the primary concern in any custody or visitation proceeding.
Parents are typically required to provide proposed parenting plans to the courts, to outline their desired custodial arrangements, holiday visitation, access to the child’s records, and who makes decisions for the child.
Consulting with a skilled family law attorney is the first step in determining the best options for your case.
By recognizing and understanding the positive and negative parenting factors in your case, you’ll have the resources you need to move forward in your legal case to present evidence as to what is in the best interests of your child and protecting the wellbeing of your entire family.