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How does the court define the "best interests" of a child?

Most parents just want what is best for their child. Judges in child custody courts want the same thing and try to make their decisions based on this desire.

In most states, courts will make a final custody ruling based on the "best interests" of the child. But how exactly does a judge determine this for a child that isn't theirs?

While there is no official definition, child's "best interests" are generally those that meet the goal of fostering and encouraging the child's happiness, security, mental health and emotional development. Some factors that courts will consider when framing what would be in a child's best interest include:

  • Age and sex of the child
  • Adjustment to school and community
  • Mental and physical health of the parents
  • Religious and cultural considerations
  • Need for continuation of stable home environment
  • Other children relevant to this child's custody arrangement
  • Support and opportunity for interaction with extended family on either side
  • Interaction and interrelationship with other members of the household

A judge will also look at abusive behavior that could impact the child's happiness and security, such as parental use of excessive discipline or emotional abuse, parental drug use, child/sex abuse or if there is a pattern of domestic violence in the home.

A child can also play a role in determining their best wishes. In Kentucky, a child can express their own wishes and have them be considered in a final custody decision, and these wishes will be listened to at any age. In Indiana a child's wishes are also considered, but not until they are 11 years old.

A child's "best interests" in a custody case are ultimately defined by the same things you as a parent consider every day for your child. You want them to be healthy, happy and safe. Child custody courts want to create an arrangement that guarantees those needs continue to be met.

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