How Do Courts Determine “Best Interests of the Child” In a Custody Case?

By Shelby Nousain

While progressing through divorce proceedings there’s no doubt that one of the biggest decisions will be who gains custody of your children. During the proceedings the court will examine the situation of both parents and either order “joint custody” of the child, meaning both parents will share legal and physical custody, or sole custody of the child to a single parent.

The court bases this decision on what they deem as in the “best interest of the child”, but what exactly does this mean, and how does the court go about determine what’s best for the child? The overarching goal of the court is to place the child in a safe environment that they’ll thrive in physically, and emotionally. While each state has varying statutes for determining best interest, there are quite a few commonalities in how custody is determined. Here are a few of the most common aspects of the parent’s situation that will be reviewed to determine what’s in the best interest of the child:

  • The child’s preference
    If the child has a strong preference to reside with one of the parents over the other the court will strongly take this into consideration. The age of the child is also important when considering this question. The older the child is, the stronger his or her opinion will be as to who is granted custody.
  • Parent stability
    It’s important for the child to live in a safe environment, so the court will review whether the parent has had any history of mental illness, drug/substance abuse, or history of criminal/domestic abuse charged against them.
  • Stability of living environment
    The court tries not to disrupt the child’s living environment as much as possible. They recognize the importance of the child to live in the same area, attend the same school, and have the same friends. This means that if one parent will be relocating after the divorce, the court would look more favorably towards the parent staying in the same location.
  • Capacity to provide safe home
    Additionally, courts want to ensure the child will be living in a safe home with adequate food, clothing, and access to medical care. Within this aspect, wealth of the parent will be taken into consideration while determining if one parent will be able to provide a better home life for the child.

Ultimately, the court’s goal is to ensure the child will have an opportunity to live a happy, and healthy life no matter who has custody. To learn more about the statues for child custody in your state you can visit the legal section of your state’s website.

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About The Author

Shelby Nousain is a student of divorce law in the state of Florida, and the founder of DivorceIndex. He aims to help married couples successfully navigate through their divorce proceedings by offering legal advice, and referrals to local divorce lawyers.