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How do courts define the best interests of the child?

In custody cases, judges make a lot of decisions based on the “best interests of the child.” This is subjective terminology that may mean different things to each parent, so it can be a frustrating principle for either party to follow.

If you are unsure about developments in your custody arrangement, consider what factors the judge is looking at to help you understand. Knowing what the courts are looking for can help you supply appropriate evidence to support your own case.  

Maintain stability

During a divorce, your children are adapting to a lot of change within the household, along with varying degrees of emotional stress. To mediate these feelings, many judges feel it is best to keep them where they are familiar -- if, that is, one parent will continue to live in the family home. Remaining in the current home eliminates the anxiety of moving away from friends, starting a new school or adjusting to a new house.

Accommodate special needs

There has been conflicting information on whether or not marriages are at greater risk when they involve children with special needs, but many sources agree on one key fact: In situations where the child has a medical condition or other health concerns, it is necessary to put these needs first. The current home may be in close proximity to superior treatment and care facilities, and one parent may provide accommodations that better address the child’s needs.

Foster emotional bonds with family members

A judge understands the importance of family in developing children, and the goal is to allow a young person to establish relationships with as many relatives as possible. It is not in the best interest of the child to move him or her to a distant area that is far removed from extended family members.

As a noncustodial parent, it may seem like these considerations work against your case, but it is important to keep a few things in mind. These concerns often prevent the other parent from relocating your children out-of-state, and kids who are old enough to express it usually have a say in some of the decisions.

The judge relies on information from both parents to determine what will ultimately be in the child’s best interests. A judge may also appoint a guardian ad litem to help with decisions about custody and parenting plans. A guardian ad litem is a trained professional who will review the various factors that are used to make the best decisions possible.

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