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How courts decide what is in a child's best interests

You'll often hear that a divorce court looks at the "child's best interests" when deciding how custody will be split between two parents.

This phrase shows that the court values the child's well-being over the parents'. It's helpful to understand that mindset. However, what exactly does the court use to decide if it is in the child's best interests to live with the mother, the father or both?

Every case is admittedly different and unique, but the following are a few things courts will consider:

  • The adjustment that the child has to make to the new community. For instance, will staying with Dad keep the child near friends and peers, while moving with Mom means making new friends and living in a very different environment?
  • The child's school. If possible, children should stay in the same schools that they attended before the divorce.
  • The parents' health, on both a physical and mental level. How well can the parents care for the child?
  • What the child wants, if he or she is old enough to both ask and understand the ramifications. Teens often have more of a voice in court than young children.
  • Any evidence of things that may make a home unsafe for a child, such as abuse of alcohol or drugs.
  • What other people live in the house, how stable that makes the home environment and what relationship the child has to those individuals.

Again, these are not all of the factors courts consider, but they are a good starting point. Make sure you know your legal rights as you work through this process.

Source: FindLaw, "Who Gets Custody," accessed March 01, 2018

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