The term “a child’s best interests” is the crucial principle determining custody. Judges use it to make their decisions. Attorneys will use it regularly when discussing the family’s needs and wants, regardless of whether they are in court or using mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution.
Generally, the court’s stated goal is putting the child’s interests and well-being above all else. This will inform a wide range of decisions involving child custody, financial support, living arrangements and other details unique to the family. All judgments and discussions involving this should have the ultimate goal of fostering happiness, security and the children’s mental health.
What determines the best interests?
The “best interests” of the children will vary from family to family. Factors that the court or negotiating attorneys should include:
- The children’s wishes if they are old enough to express them
- Any special needs the children may have
- The parents’ mental and physical health
- The continuation of a stable home environment
- Other children whose custody are relevant to a child’s custody
- The age of the children
- The safety of the children, including the threat of domestic violence, emotional abuse or excessive discipline
A key part of custody issues
Following the lead of family experts, courts typically rule that it is in the child’s best interests for both parents to be actively involved in the lives of their children. If this means sharing custody, both parents will have decision-making power in how and where they raise their children. Instead, it could involve one parent having custody, but the other parent may still have rights for visitation. This could include approved sleepovers with the non-custodial parent. Suppose the parent with custody is unreasonable. In that case, the courts can impose a fixed visitation on a specific schedule or ask for reasonable visitation that the parents generally work out among themselves.
Coming to an agreement
The parents have many reasons for divorce. Ideally, the issue was related to their relationship, but there are still often disagreements on parenting styles, life choices and other details considered in the children’s best interests. This is why custody matters are often one of the most contentious parts of a divorce. If one spouse is unreasonable, the other parent can protect their parental rights and what they view as the children’s best interests.