What Does a Child’s “Best Interests” Mean in Custody Cases?

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child custody; child's best interests

So often in child custody cases, the case can turn into a tug-of-war between the parents. This is especially true if there is nothing the parents can agree on in the divorce case. However, a child is not a house. A judge cannot just decide to sell it and split the proceeds between a parent like property or possessions. Instead, the judge in a custody case between parents that cannot come to an agreement will examine all evidence presented and design a custody plan for the parents that works in the child’s best interests. However, parents often have differing opinions on what those best interests are. Therefore, it is important to know how a judge will make their decision.

What are a Child’s Best Interests?

Best interests of a child are easily defined as a custody situation that helps foster the child’s happiness, safety, and growth. Most courts will agree that unless other evidence is presented, a child benefits most from having a relationship with both their parents. Unfortunately, there are situations in which a shared custody situation is not viable. Furthermore, if there is a history of abuse, custodial rights will be limited or even taken away completely by the courts.

How Best Interests are Determined

The determination of a child’s best interests and how custody will be awarded has a lot to do with the parents, but the children will still play a part. There are actually quite a few factors that go into determining the best interests of a child. These factors include:

  • The mental, emotional, financial, and physical stability of both parents
  • The relationship each parent has with the child
  • The work skills and living situation of each parent
  • The special needs of the child
  • The motivation for seeking custody of each parent
  • Any history of domestic abuse or violent behavior of each parent
  • The preference of the child if they are considered to be of an appropriate age for intelligent and mature decision-making
  • The child’s schedule including school and other activities
  • The recommendations of custody evaluators or expert witnesses
  • The parent’s willingness for the child to have a relationship with the other parent

Every single aspect of the above will go into the judge’s decision on how a custody plan will be crafted. Obviously they will be less likely to give longer period of custody to abusive parents. Yet, if both parents have the means to support the child financially and emotionally, but simply cannot get along with each other, they judge may craft a more equal custody plan that allows the child to maintain near equal time with both parents.

Avoiding Disruptions

It is also crucial to keep in mind that a custody plan will never try to disrupt a child’s life. This means it won’t disrupt their school or extracurricular activities schedule. So parents who live far apart from each other should expect longer, but less frequent periods of custody because obviously a child can’t get on a plane on Friday if they have to be back at school on Monday. In these cases, the custody agreement will also assign responsibility on who is going to be covering travel costs as well to further minimize any disagreement.

Need Help?

Are you starting a difficult divorce and know your child custody case will be just as contentious? Contact us today. The Law Firm of Dungan & LeFevre is a dedicated family law practitioner that can help you get the best possible results from your divorce or child custody case. Let us help walk you through the process and not just represent you, but help you know what to expect.

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