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How Do Judges Determine the Best Interest of a Child?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Updated September 2, 2017

When taking on issues that involve children, family courts are tasked with choosing the outcome that is in the affected child or children's best interest. Custody and visitation are among the most common considerations courts make along with deciding provision of healthcare, schooling, hobbies, and virtually anything that may add to or detract from the child's welfare in Coral Springs.

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Florida family law courts consider it to be within a child's best interest to have a loving relationship with both parents if doing so would not interfere with the child's health, safety and happiness. Other decisions made by the court also ideally promote the child's security, mental health, safety, physical well-being, and emotional development into adulthood.

How judges make determinations

From state to state and court to court, there is not one set of codified guidelines that help judges determine best interest in every situation. However, there are a several factors most judges consider. These factors include considering the child's happiness and preferences whenever reasonable, mental and physical health of the parents, each parent's ability to attend to any special needs the child may have, relevant cultural and/or religious considerations, continuation of stable living environment, age and gender of child, presence of abusive pattern, excessive use of discipline, drug and/or alcohol abuse, other members of the household, opportunity to interact with extended family members, and custody arrangements of siblings.

Factors judges consider in cases

States vary widely in terms of the extent to which "best interest" factors are recorded in their statutes. The following are a few examples of statutory requirements judges follow in different states in determining what is best for a child.

Approximately 21 states and Washington, D.C. have listed in statutes the specific factors local judges are required to consider when determining a child's best interest:

  • Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. weigh the emotional ties and relationships between the child and his or her parents, siblings, and other household members or caregivers.
  • Nine states require judges to evaluate each parent's capacity to provide adequate food, clothing, medical care, and a safe home for the child.
  • Eight states and the District of Columbia call for courts to weigh the child's physical and mental health needs and the physical and mental health of the parents.
  • Eight states require judges to consider the presence of domestic violence in the home.

Of the 22 jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., that list factors in their statutes, seven states and the District of Columbia require judges to consider all of the specified factors. In the remaining 14 states courts are directed to consider all relevant factors in addition to those that are named. Three states prohibit judges from considering certain factors. Connecticut's statutes instruct judges to avoid considering the parent or caregiver's socioeconomic status when making "best interest" determinations. Delaware restricts judges from deciding one parent is a better caregiver than another based on his or her gender. Idaho prohibits discrimination based on parental disability.

State trends regarding other important factors

Florida is a state that weigh the importance of sibling and other close family bonds. Judges in Alaska must consider frequency of visitation with the parents and family members if a child is removed from the home. Florida judges consider the love, affection, and other emotional ties the child has with the parents, his or her siblings and other family members who are important in determining the child's best interest in a child custody battle. Approximately 11 states and Washington, D.C. call for the child's preferences to be considered. In these instances, the court must determine whether the child is of an age and maturity level to express reasonable preferences.

Learn more about your options by calling a Coral Springs child custody lawyer today to schedule a free consultation.

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