When child custody cases are discussed, the term you'll hear over and over again is that any decision has to be in your child's best interests. What's important for you to understand is exactly what that means.
The best interests of a child do not necessarily mean sending a child to live with a wealthier parent or asking a parent to stay home to give them more time. Instead, the goal is to make sure that any decisions made for the child are going to help keep them healthy and happy, to provide a good education and to make sure they're well cared for.
A child's best interests aren't necessarily what a child wants, either. A child can say they want to live with mom or dad until they're blue in the face, but if the court believes that living with that parent is harmful or a negative factor in the child's life, then it's unlikely to agree.
What factors play a role in a child's best interests?
Several factors play a role. Some include:
- The wishes of the child (if they are old enough to express them)
- The physical and mental health of the parent
- Cultural or religious considerations
- Siblings or other children who may impact the ruling
- The support of external family members
- Whether or not the child has special needs
- The child's age and sex
- Whether or not any domestic violence plays a role in the case
- Whether or not drug or alcohol abuse plays a role in the case
- The child's and parents' relationship with the school and community
Will a court always approve parents' preferences for child custody?
In a lot of cases, yes, but not always. It is the judge and court's job to make sure that your child is safe and healthy. If they do not agree with the custody arrangements that you've suggested, then the judge can order changes to that agreement.
A judge is the last line of defense for a child in these situations, so they will listen to what an older child has to say and review the plan you've put together carefully.
Your attorney will talk to you about ways to make your case, so that you know that the custody arrangements you've come up with are truly in the best interests of your child and will work for you in the coming months and years. Changes may be needed in the future, but plans must be considerate of your child's needs.