“BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD”: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
In all court cases that affect a child, such as divorce and custody disputes, the court will consider the “best interest of the child” when making decisions. This standard refers to the factors a judge will consider when deciding what will best serve the child and which person is best suited to care for the needs of the child. In divorce cases, both partners may suﬀer emotional distress, but often the most affected are the children. The divided atmosphere of parents fighting over who should be able to have custody of the children can cause great confusion. Making decisions according to the best interests of the child is the court’s way of finding the best outcome to minimize harm to children.
There is no one definition of the best interest of the child, nor is there one single factor that will ultimately decide what is in a child’s best interest. Rather, a judge looks to a culmination of factors to gain the best understanding of the situation and to hopefully provide the best outcome. Every situation, like every child, is unique, so each case is decided on its merits pertaining to the particular situation. The guidance of an experienced family law attorneys, Fass & Greenberg, LLP is important to help you know and understand what a judge may look for when deciding what is in the child’s best interest. Below are some common factors that judges evaluate during child custody proceedings:
- Stability: This is one of the major factors that is normally used to determine the custody of a child. Courts are reluctant to disrupt a child’s lifestyle and are more likely to grant custody to a parent who has been living with the child while the other parent was away.
- Primary Caregiver: When it comes to awarding custody rights, the court will always consider the person who has been taking care of the child before the separation or divorce. For instance, if both of you lived in the same house, the court will seek to know who was directly responsible for taking care of a child’s daily needs, such as providing food, bathing, supervision of homework, doctor’s appointments, etc. on a daily basis.
- Child Care Arrangements: In most cases, both parents are working and require childcare. In such a situation, the court will give priority to a parent that appears to have a better child care arrangement.
- Mental and Physical Health of the Parent(s): Untreated mental illnesses, emotional instability, and poor parenting choices can affect a custody award, as well as history of drug or alcohol abuse. The court is unlikely to award custody to a parent who is emotionally unstable or has a history of untreated mental illnesses or addictions. In addition to mental illness, severe physical illness or disability that affects a parent’s ability to take care of the child can lessen that parent’s likelihood of being awarded custody.
- Domestic Violence and Home Environment: If a parent has a history of domestic violence against the other spouse, the Court is less likely to award custody to the abusing spouse, particularly if the child has been a witness to such abuse. If a third party (relative or romantic partner) in a parent’s household poses a danger to the child, the court is less likely to award that parent custody.
- Child’s Preference: Depending on a child’s age, a court may consider the child’s preference to live with one parent over the other. The closer the child is to 16 years of age, the more weight a court will give to the child’s preference. The court will typically take care to assess that the reason behind the preference is a rational one that serves the child’s best interests.
- Existence of Siblings: If a child has siblings, a court will take that into consideration as it is often beneficial for children to continue living with their siblings. This helps maintain stability and lessens the unnecessary trauma that can come along with separating siblings.
- Parents’ Behavior and Ability to Foster a Relationship with the Other Parent: The court will observe each parent’s behavior in the courtroom and asses each parent’s ability to cooperate with the other. It is important for each parent to encourage a relationship with the other parent, as long as it is safe to do so. Courts are more likely to give custody to the parent who will encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent.
This list is not exhaustive and the court can weigh any factors that have bearing on a child’s best interests or how best to promote the child’s welfare. Courts may also consider any existing written agreements between parents, but is not bound by the terms of such an agreement.
There is no doubt that child custody cases are diﬀicult to handle. That is why you need a qualified family law attorney to increase your chances of winning your child custody case. It is important to engage a lawyer throughout the entire process, and the attorneys at Fass & Greenberg, LLP have the knowledge and experience to help you succeed regarding the best interest of the child.