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How are a child’s “best interests” determined in a divorce case?

One of the most difficult aspects of a child custody case is determining what each parent feels is in their child’s best interest. You might think you have a grasp of what you think your child needs most, but it’s the court that will make the final decision.

Luckily, there are common questions in child custody cases which can make providing your child with a healthy and happy life easier.

Questions the court asks when determining a child’s best interests include:

  • What are the child’s wishes? Asking what the child wants can provide crucial insights into planning what is best for them if they’re old enough and have the capability to provide a meaningful answer.
  • Is there abuse or violence in the home? Evidence of sexual and other abuse or domestic violence weigh heavily in a child custody case.
  • Are there special needs? Does the child have special physical, mental or emotional needs? Is each parent capable of handling these challenges?
  • Should you consider access to other family members? The relationship the child has with other family members is important in determining who the child has access to after the divorce. Whether or not the child has a close bond and a healthy relationship with their grandparents or other extended family members factor into the court’s decision.
  • Are there religious or cultural considerations? When parents of different faiths divorce, the court must weigh the best interest of the child versus the parents’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The goal is to determine whether following a particular religion would harm the child. What constitutes ‘harm’ varies from state to state, so check with a family law attorney for guidance.
  • Does a parent currently have issues with sobriety? One or both parents having unresolved issues with drug or alcohol addiction that prevent them from parenting properly factor strongly into whether a parent is awarded or denied custody.
  • Are there other children involved? Courts rarely split up siblings, but if there are children involved from one or both parents’ previous relationships, the court may determine that split custody is appropriate. This involves making decisions about how each child will spend their time with their parents and other siblings.

You may feel that you know what’s best for your child, yet navigating a child custody case requires both parents to put some serious thought into issues they might not have considered regarding their child’s care and upbringing. Check with an experienced child custody attorney for guidance on how to best meet the needs of the children involved.

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