Divorce cases are legally complicated and oftentimes emotionally charged legal proceedings. When child custody is at issue, a divorce case can resemble an ominous battlefield in some instances. Understanding the complexity and emotionality of custody disputes, an attempt is made to tamp down passions by developing factors a court can consider in determining the best interests of a child in a divorce case.
In applying the best interests of a child standard in making a custody determination, a court can consider any number of different factors. The more frequently considered factors in determining the bests interests of a child in a custody matter include:
- Consideration of which parent has been the primary caretaker of a child
- Physical, mental, and emotional health of the parties
- Consideration of which parent is most likely to encourage a relationship with the noncustodial parent
- Child’s preference regarding custody
- Residential status of parents
Understanding the Best Interests of a Child Standard
Before diving deeper into a discussion of some of the more commonplace considerations used by a court in determining the best interests of a child in a custody, a person is wise to have a clearer understanding of what is meant by the best interests of a child standard. Although parents do have certain rights themselves when it comes to matters involving child custody and parenting time or visitation, in the final analysis, the most important rights are those associated with a child. While parental preferences and protecting valid parental rights are important, in the grand scheme of things, the best interests of a child reign supreme.
A court makes a determination as to what is in the best interests of a child on a case-by-case basis. The unique facts and circumstances of a case govern a court’s decision-making when it comes to matters related to custody and parenting time. A cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all standard is never applied in all child custody matters.
Consideration Which Parent Has Been the Primary Caretaker
Long gone are the days in which a mother is presumed to be the primary caretaker of children. Awarding a mother primary residential custody of a child is no longer the legal default position of the law in any state in the U.S.A.
A court will consider which parent historically has been the primary caretaker of a child. In a considerable number of cases, a court is apt to conclude that the parents shared relatively equally in providing care for a child.
Physical, Mental, and Emotional Health of the Parties
In considering the best interests of a child in a custody matter, a court is likely to consider the overall physical, mental, and emotional health of the parents and the child. A health issue is not likely to preclude a parent from a favorable custody decision. An issue with substance use disorder very well may. Consideration of physical, mental, and emotional health issues very much is done on a case-by-case basis.
Consideration of Which Parent is Most Likely to Encourage a Relationship with the Noncustodial Parent
A judge will consider which parent is more likely to encourage a relationship with the noncustodial parent. A parent more willing to encourage the other parent to maintain a strong, close relationship with a child garners favorable consideration in regard to this factor when it comes to a custody determination.
Child’s Preference Regarding Custody
In many jurisdictions, the preference of a child regarding custody may be considered by a court. Whether a child’s preference is considered depends on the age of the child as well as the maturity level of that young person.
Residential Status of Parents
Finally, among the five factors, a court routinely elects to consider when determining the best interests of a child is the consideration of the residential status of the parents. The focus is on both parent’s homes with an eye to considering which residence will be most conducive to healthy growth and positive development of a child. This can include a reflection of not only the physical structure of the residence and its location but also on a close consideration of who else lives at the residence.
When parents recognize that the primary objective in the development of a custody and parenting time order in a divorce case is to enhance the best interests of a child, parties oftentimes temper their own emotions. When the focus is kept on a child, parents are more apt to try to maintain open lines of communication. In addition, they are less inclined to routinely or even consistently go to battle over even the smallest of issues.