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Child's Best Interest Standard

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What is the “Child’s Best Interest” Standard?

This refers to situations involving child custody arrangements or visitation schedules. When formulating such agreements, courts follow the general principle that it is the best interests of the child, and not the parent’s desires, that should govern custody and visitation rights. While the needs of the parents are also importanct, family law courts place a greater priority on the child’s development and adjustment. 

What Factors are Used to Determine their Best Interests? 

Child custody laws vary by state, but courts will generally consider the following in order to determine what is in the child’s best interest:

  • The child’s background including age, gender, and mental and physical health
  • The child’s own preference, if they are of a certain age of maturity, usually 12-14 years or older
  • Environmental considerations such as quality of schools, community safety, and extra-curricular opportunities
  • The health and maturity of each parent
  • Each parent’s ability to provide financially and emotionally for the child
  • The degree of each parent’s willingness to encourage contact between the child and the other party
  • Whether there are any siblings or important family members involved
  • Social background and lifestyle of each parent

While this list is not exhaustive, it does illustrate the fact that each case is unique, and courts will render a custody order that best addresses the needs of all parties. 

Also note that the child’s best interest is not to be confused with the child’s preferences. Courts will only consider the child’s preference if they are deemed to be of sufficient maturity to make their own decisions regarding to each parent.

When Can the “Best Interests" Standard be Overridden?

In general, it is best to consider that courts will always consider the child’s best interest. However, sometimes the custody order or visitation schedule needs to be modified in order to accommodate drastic changes involving either parent. These may include situations such as a loss of employment or an emergency incident. 

In such instances, the resulting change may further disrupt the child’s adjustment to new settings. However, this does not mean that the court is not considering the child’s best interest; rather, modifications to court orders are a necessary part of the custody process.

Should I Hire a Family Lawyer?

When dealing with custody orders and visitation rights, it is important to work under the guidance of a lawyer who understands the various laws governing such matters. Even in the simplest child custody claim, there are numerous deadlines to meet and documents that need to be filed. A competent family law attorney can assist you greatly in the process.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 01-06-2017 12:24 PM PST

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