For parents who are attempting to settle a disputed child custody situation, the term "best interest of the child" is likely to surface. Judges use this standard of measurement to assist in determining who should get or retain custody of minor children, either in a divorce proceeding or other change of custody proceeding, such as a grandparent seeking custody of their grandchild. Though this term at first may seem vague, judges use this standard as an overall measure of custodial fitness in tandem with the below influencing factors. If you are involved in a disputed child custody case, read on to gain a better understanding of what "best interest of the child" really means.
Judges place a premium on how well the two parents (or other involved parties) relate to one another. The best interest of the child edict gives credit to the party that seeks to allow the child to have a fulfilling relationship with both parents, and "deducts points" for the parent who badmouths, disrespects and tries to deny visitation to the other parent. Not only does strife create issues for children, but the more accommodating parent is perceived as being a better role-model and more emotionally mature; both desirable qualities in a good parent.
Judges in the past would automatically give custody of babies and young children to the mother, following the so-called "tender age" doctrine, but this is seldom the case nowadays. Nonetheless, judges do seem predisposed to give custody to the mother, even when there is no logical reason for doing so. Mothers who are nursing their offspring are often given physical custody for practical reasons, unless there are obvious signs of them being unfit to care for the child.
Judges logically reason that children who can remain in the family home suffer less upheaval and disruption to their lives. Familiar surroundings, especially for younger children, are thought to be in the best interest of the child. The parent who retains the family home must be otherwise a fit parent, however. Additionally, the parent who does not retain the family home and wants custody should use care when setting up their living arrangements. Saving money by sleeping on a friend's couch may be economical, but the judge may not agree that exposure to that type of arrangement is in the child's best interest.
Preferences of the Child
Some states steer clear of allowing children to have a say in custody arrangements, but some allow children who are considered of a certain age to make their wishes known. The growing independence and maturity of teenagers can indicate a need to take their opinion into account when determining custody, as well as visitation.
You can count on your family law attorney to advise you on how best to prove that you are the parent worthy of being awarded child custody.