When parents divorce or split up, determining how they will co-parent is often their highest priority. If they cannot come to an agreement on their own, then the courts will have to make custody-related decisions.

Under these circumstances, the courts will decide on legal and physical custody based on what is in the best interests of the child. However, parents typically have their own ideas about what this means, and they don’t always align with the court’s – or each other’s – opinion. As such, it can be important to understand what “best interests of the child” means in the eyes of the court.

What are “best interests”?

As this FindLaw article explains, “best interests” refers to decisions that foster a child’s happiness, safety, development and health. When considering custody matters, the court will therefore consider factors like:

  • A parent’s living environment
  • The child’s need for continuity and stability
  • A history of drug use or addiction
  • The extended network of support a parent might have
  • Living arrangements with other children and family members
  • Whether the parent can meet a child’s special needs
  • Aggressive, violent or abusive tendencies of a parent
  • The current quality of the parent-child relationship
  • Any extreme views on education, religion or discipline

Each of these factors has the potential to have a great impact on a child’s happiness, safety, development and health, so the courts will examine them closely before deciding on custody.

Opinions of the child

In addition to these factors, the courts can also consider what parents want as well as the preferences of the child, as long as the child is old enough to form and express a reasonable opinion.

Securing a fair outcome

Whether parents or the courts determine child-related matters like custody, it is crucial that the resulting arrangement is in a child’s best interests. If you have questions or concerns about what this means or how you might present your case to the courts, you can talk to an attorney.