In a divorce or child custody dispute, determining a child’s best interests is a primary consideration for courts and parents. Yes, the parents themselves may have specific desires when it comes to their parenting arrangements. But the court is going to look more at what would be best for the child.
The specific factors that influence what is considered in a child’s best interests can vary by case. But they generally include at least some of the following concerns.
The child’s age and developmental needs
Courts consider the child’s age, developmental stage and any special needs. The level of care and attention required for a toddler may differ significantly from that of a teenager.
The child’s preferences
Depending on the child’s age and maturity, the court may consider their wishes and preferences, although this is often weighed alongside other factors and may not be the sole determining factor. As with the above, age is very important. The court is far more likely to give weight to what a 16-year-old wants than a young child expresses as their desires.
Parental capacity and ability
The court assesses each parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs, considering factors like parenting skills, willingness to provide a nurturing environment and the capacity to ensure the child’s safety. This is why the court will sometimes consider the parents’ physical and mental health. Do they each have the same ability to provide care for the child on their own?
Continuity and stability
Courts often aim to reduce disruptions in the child’s life. Maintaining stability in the child’s home, school, and community may be given significant weight. This is especially crucial when determining where the child will live. Creating stability is very important during a divorce or non-marital split.
The relationship with each parent
The court examines the level of attachment between the parent and child, the ability to encourage and support the child’s relationship with the other parent and the willingness to facilitate the other parent’s time with the child and their capacity for healthy communication. Essentially, they’re considering the quality of that relationship. The court may review each parent’s history of caregiving, including their involvement in the child’s life and any prior instances of neglect, abuse or abandonment.
It’s important to note that the specific weight given to these factors can vary depending on the circumstances of each case. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that the child’s best interests are considered and that their needs are met. Parents who are working through a contentious custody process need to know about all of their legal options before committing to a particular strategy given the stakes of the matter at hand.