Child custody: What goes into a best interest determination?

| Jun 10, 2020 | Firm News |

Divorce is a stressful event. Your daily life is quickly upended, your emotions are frazzled, and your future is uncertain. As if this isn’t overwhelming enough, divorce might also put your relationship with your children at risk depending on the type of custody and visitation arrangement that comes out of it. If this worries you, then you need to make sure that you are prepared to make a compelling case both at the negotiation table and in court as to why your proposed custody and visitation plan is the best.

Child custody determinations are based on the child’s best interests. That seems easy enough to understand, but it’s actually sort of a slippery standard to get your hands around. After all, what, exactly, goes into a best interests determination? We hope this post will provide some insight so that you can better prepare to appropriately and aggressively handle any child custody dispute you might face.

So, here are some of the major factors that play into a best interests determination:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • Each parent’s financial stability
  • The physical and mental health of each parent
  • The needs of the child and each parent’s ability to meet those needs
  • Any history of abuse or neglect
  • Any history of substance abuse
  • Any history of domestic violence
  • Any history of criminality
  • The child’s wishes if he or she is old enough
  • Each parent’s willingness to maintain the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent, if it is healthy to do so
  • Who has served as the child’s primary caretaker in the past

The courts will usually consider any other evidence that it deems relevant to the custody and visitation issues before it. This means you have a lot of latitude to develop legal arguments that support your position. You might have child custody evaluation reports, mental health evaluations, and school records to analyze, too, all of which could be highly relevant to your case.

Of course, you’re going to need evidence to support those arguments. This may mean speaking to witnesses, gathering important documents, and preparing to cross-examine the other parent. You might also want to know how issues faced in the other parent’s care affect your child. Exposure to domestic violence or substance abuse, for example, can lead to anxiety, depression, decreased school performance, and social issues. Presenting evidence of these effects can go a long way toward getting the outcome you want. So, too, can requesting court ordered evaluations, which may include psychological evaluations and other evaluations that can give the court a clearer picture of the issues before it.

Fighting for your children can be an emotional endeavor. But you can’t let your emotions get the best of you in these situations. Instead, you need to be levelheaded, armed with everything you need to put forth the best arguments possible under the circumstances. After all, if you’re custody and visitation dispute can’t be negotiated, then the outcome will be determined by a judge who only knows the parties through the evidence presented to it. The good news is that experienced family law professionals can help you navigate these oftentimes-murky waters, thereby positioning you as best as possible for an outcome that protects your child’s interests.