What Are the "Child's Best Interests" in Custody Proceedings?

One of the most important divorce-related disputes is child custody. Whether you and your spouse are cooperative about arranging a custody schedule or the decision must be left to the court, the guiding principle for an acceptable custody arrangement is the child’s best interests. Keep reading to learn what these best-interest factors entail.

What Is Included in the Child’s Best Interests for Custody Proceedings?

The phrase “the child’s best interests” is often thrown around in every custody-related discussion, and it encompasses a broad range of factors. Parents can negotiate an agreement outside of the court, in which case the court will either approve or reject the custody proposal based on whether it meets the child’s best interests. If the parents cannot agree, the court will make the final decision, again based on the child’s best interests, which include:

  • the child's physical and emotional needs;
  • the child's relationship with each parent;
  • the distance between the parents' residences;
  • each parent's physical and mental health;
  • the child's ties to the community, sibling relationships, and relationships with extended family members;
  • each parent's willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • either parent's history of domestic violence;
  • the child's preference if of a sufficient age and maturity; and
  • any other factor the court deems relevant.

Note that a child is considered of sufficient age and maturity to express their preference if they are a teenager, such as 14 years or older. However, the judge will also look at the child’s reasons for preferring one parent over the other. A valid reason might be if one parent is closer to the child’s school and their family and friends; an invalid reason might be if the child prefers one parent because that parent gives them expensive gifts. In any case, the child’s preference is only one of many factors that will be considered, if at all.

A parent’s history of domestic violence might impact that parent’s right to spend time with their child. In most cases, a parent who has a history of violence may be allowed supervised visitation at best. Supervised visitation will be monitored by a third party in a specified location, and it will be ordered if the court believes it is in the child’s best interests to still maintain some relationship with the parent.

Modifying a Custody Order in the Child’s Best Interests

The child’s best interests may change over time, especially as the child grows older and develops different needs. Any parent has the right to request a modification of an existing custody order if they can show a substantial change in circumstances and that the requested modification better meets the child’s best interests. For instance, if continued commuting between households is causing a significant hardship on the child’s grades, a modification of the existing arrangement might improve the child’s best interests.

Note that the court will prioritize the child’s needs, not a parent’s wishes. For example, a parent interested in a job opportunity farther away does not warrant a change in the child’s best interests. So, the child’s best interests are crucial factors in custody modifications as well.

If you have questions about a child custody case or a modification request, do not hesitate to contact Nelson, Taylor & Associates. Our firm can take a look at your situation and help you build a case for why your desired custody arrangement best meets the child’s interests.

Contact Nelson, Taylor & Associates PLLC for a free consultation to get started immediately.