How do courts determine a child's best interests?

Determining a parenting time arrangement and delegating parental responsibilities can be some of the most contentious issues that parents must resolve during divorce. Both you and your child’s other parent may be used to seeing your child every day. This can make the idea of splitting your child’s time feel like a loss.

However, when setting a parenting time arrangement and parental responsibilities, it is important to put your child’s welfare and desires before your own. Parents are often the people who know best what their child needs to thrive, so working with the other parent can be an effective way to hash out the details in a way that will be favorable to your child. Unfortunately, parents do not always agree on what would be best for their child.

Who decides when parents cannot?

When parents cannot reach an agreement regarding parenting time or responsibilities, a court must make those decisions. In general, courts prefer parents to share child-rearing responsibilities and both remain in regular contact with their child. However, courts must put the child's best interests first.

A child’s best interests focuses on the physical health and emotional development of that child. For most children, it is in their best interest to remain close to both parents. However, in situations that may involve domestic violence, child abuse, child neglect or sexual assault, courts may need to more closely examine the factors that determine the child’s best interests.

What factors determine a childs best interests?

When determining what parenting time arrangement would be best for a child, the court may consider:

  • Your wishes, the other parent’s wishes and your child’s wishes
  • Your child’s interactions with loved ones
  • Your child’s adjustment to changes at home, in school or in the community
  • The mental and physical health of you, the other parent and your child
  • Each parent’s ability to support your child’s relationship with the other parent
  • Each parent’s past interactions with your child
  • How close you and the other parent live from each other
  • Each parent’s ability to prioritize your child’s needs

When determining what decision-making responsibilities each parent will have, the court may consider:

  • How well you and the other parent can work together to make joint decisions
  • If you and the other parent can work together to provide a positive relationship with your child
  • If mutual decision-making responsibilities will promote more frequent contact between each parent and your child

If you and your child’s other parent are going through a divorce, someone must make decisions about parenting time and responsibilities. Understanding what factors courts may consider when making these decisions can help you be a better advocate for your child, regardless of who ends up making these important decisions.

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