We hear the phrase “the best interests of the child” often, however, how well do you know what it means, and how is this applied in a custody case? What will the court take into consideration when it comes to deciding or modifying orders regarding custody? Simply put, the best interests of the child is a situation in which a child is safe, healthy, and happy.
The best interest of the child takes precedence over all other factors, including the desires of the parents. A parent can love a child unconditionally but still be considered “unfit” to raise the child. Even when both parents are good and loving parents, one parent may be considered a better custodial choice simply because they live where the children’s lives won’t be as disrupted or they have continued access to friends and family. There are many different elements to be considered. Some of the most common are below.
- Does the parent have the mental and physical capacity to care for the child? Parents must make decisions for the child every day. A fit parent is able to make decisions about everything from homework to discipline and other house rules. Are they physically able to care for a child’s needs?
- Does the parent have a lifestyle that could negatively impact the child?
If a parent is out drinking or socializing every night, leaving the child alone or with a babysitter, it could be seen as neglect. The parent needs to make certain the child’s well-being is a top priority. A good parent will not be exposing a child to inappropriate activities. Drinking and drug abuse in the presence of a child or leaving these substances where a child could find them could land that parent back in court. Having overnight “guests” of a romantic nature could also be a consideration.
- Is the parent more likely to cooperate with co-parenting orders? Sometimes a parent will deny the other parent their visitation or shared custody time. If one parent is more likely to allow and foster a relationship with the other parent appropriately, a judge would be inclined to see this as being in the child’s best interest.
- Can the parent provide a stable, healthy environment? While a child doesn’t need to be raised in luxury, they do need a clean, safe environment where they are safe and secure.
- Is the parent able and willing to provide medical and psychological care when needed? A good parent needs to be certain appropriate medical appointments are made and kept. Any special needs the child may have such as a medication or therapy schedule must also be maintained.
- Is the child happy? Certainly a child’s level of happiness is subjective. But a child who feels secure, loved, and free to love both parents will be happier than a child who feels caught in the middle of adult issues.
Ultimately, the judge will need to decide what is best if the parents are unable to agree. An experienced family law attorney can help you and your children as you move forward. Jill Coil, managing partner of CoilLaw, is an outstanding and passionate advocate for children. If you are in need of legal assistance with a custody issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.