The Meaning Behind “Child’s Best Interest”

A divorce or separation can make you feel like your life is unraveling. Everything you built (and dreamed of creating) with your partner is called into question. One of the most unnerving elements is the thought of losing time with your children. Although the premise may be unrealistic or flawed, you may develop concerns about your spouse wanting full custody or preventing you from seeing your children as much as you would like.

When people argue over custody, it is usually for one of a few reasons. 

  • They want to protect their children, and one parent believes it is in the child’s best interest to live with them. 
  • They are “weaponizing” the children because the parental conflict is so high.
  • One parent may want more custodial time because it means they will pay less child support. 

The last two points are deeply flawed because the parent is using the children to achieve an outcome that has nothing to do with the children. The first one likely comes from a place of genuine concern. Parents can disagree about custody while still being convinced they are acting in the child’s best interest. The court will also use this term to make a decision, and it is crucial to identify what it means—especially for someone new to the divorce process and concerned about custody. 

What Does It Mean? 

If a court must determine physical and/or legal custody, it will make a decision supporting the child’s health, welfare, and safety. This is one reason (of many) why the court can keep a child out of situations where abuse or violence is present. Are you concerned that your spouse will keep you from seeing your children unjustifiably? The court will consider this as well. The judge may place the child with the parent more likely to support the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent (the parent who spends less than 50% of the time with the child). 

The court will also consider stability, emotional bonds, and “patterns of care.” In other words, the court may look at where the child’s friends and family live, who has been raising the child, and where the child is connected. For example, will the child have to leave school if one parent becomes the primary custodian?

Can My Child Choose Where They Live?

Friends are often quick to offer “legal” advice. Someone may tell you that when the child reaches a certain age, they can choose where they live. Divorce laws differ by state, which may very well be the case in some places. In California, it is possible for a child who is at least 14 years old to speak to the court regarding where they would like to live. The child must possess a “capacity to reason” before being put in this situation. 

Additionally, the court may not allow the child to address the court if it is not in the child’s best interest. Though the court could hear the child’s wishes, that doesn’t mean the court must render a decision that is in line with it. Sometimes when a child’s wishes and best interest do not align, the court will appoint a minor’s counsel to help determine what is in the child’s best interest.

Work Through Custody & Visitation Alongside Empower Law Group

Attorney Johanna Kleppe holds the distinction of being a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS). She will assist you with developing parenting plans, crafting visitation arrangements, and working through the challenges associated with child custody. Contact our office today to schedule your consultation.

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Empower Law Group

My practice is entirely focused on helping families and children navigate the sometimes complex and often confusing world of family law, guardianships, domestic violence, reunification, and litigation. I bring compassion to my work and am dedicated to finding the proper resolution for you and your particular family law dilemma. I am accessible and meticulous about ensuring you receive the attention you deserve. We aim to empower you to create the next great chapter of your life.

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