One of the most frequently used phrases in family law is “the best interests of the child.” Because of that, one of the most common questions I hear from clients is “what exactly does that mean?”
Black's Law Dictionary defines Best Interests of the Child as:
“A standard by which a court determines what arrangements would be to a child's greatest benefit, often used in deciding child-custody and visitation matters and in deciding whether to approve an adoption or a guardianship.”
The Court can use many different factors to define this standard and such factors may vary from case to case, but usually include some or all of the following:
- the emotional tie between the child and the parent or guardian;
- the ability of the parent to give the child love and proper guidance;
- the established living arrangements the parent will provide for the child;
- the ability of a parent to foster a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent;
- and, depending on the age of the child, sometimes the child's preference will also be considered.
Each case could present a host of other relevant factors that will need to be evaluated and weighed. However, one general presumption usually upheld is the notion that the child's relationship with the two parents is generally paramount to the child's relationship with extended family. This is the relationship that will be most ardently protected by the Court absent evidence of abuse, neglect, or other fault grounds that have affected or will affect the child.