What Does "Best Interest" Really Mean? / by Cassandra Hearn

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Family law cases involve a variety of issues ranging from property valuation to spousal support to child custody.  For child custody and visitation, a judge will have to make a final determination based on what is in the child’s best interest.  “Best interest” is a broad term with many meanings, but having a basic understanding of what it means in court and how it works can be very important for you and your family law case.

There are two underlying issues for each “best interest” determination. First: every court is concerned with a child’s healthy, safety, and welfare.  In other words, any of the other considerations for a child custody order must take a back seat to what will actually keep the child safe and healthy.  Second: there is a presumption that the child’s best interest will be served by frequent and continuing contact with both of the parents.  This means that the default state is that both parents will get parenting time with the child unless such an arrangement is shown to be a danger to the child’s health or welfare.

In addition to these two essential parameters, there are a number of other factors [CH1] that a court will consider when determining the custody plan.  One is the parents’ respective co-parenting skills and whether they have a history of being able to work together.  Courts typically do not believe that a parent who intentionally interferes with the other parent’s visitation is acting in a child’s best interest.  Parenting skills are also important.  A court is not looking to see if each parent is perfect, but rather that the parenting decisions that are regularly made are reasonable and are putting the child first.

The court will also examine the schedule through the lens of the child’s actual needs, activities, and preferences.  Although both parents certainly love the child and have their own activities and preferences, the focus in a best interest inquiry is what is best for the child, not what will please the parents.  Accordingly, if one parent is better able to meet the child’s actual needs and schedule, that parent may be better suited to be the primary custody parent.

Custody cases are important for you and your child, and you need an experienced team on your side. Call us today for an appointment at 619-800-0384.