What Is The Child’s Best Interest Standard and Why Is It Important?
One of the most important jobs of the court when presiding over a divorce case is constructing the best plan for the minor children.
In this context, this means that the custody decisions must keep the children’s “best interests” at the forefront of any decision related to their welfare. Children have an intrinsic right to be happy, feel protected, and experience emotional, mental, and physical health. They also have the right to participate in the lives of both of their parents and develop a close, trusting relationship.
What does the “Child’s Best Interest Standard” Mean?
The components of the “Child’s Best Interests” can be broken down into 4 groups:
- Physical health: This category includes ítems such as substance abuse by a parent, a history of domestic violence/abuse, whether or not a parent has adequate living conditions, and can provide for the children’s needs (bed, shower, food, safety).
- Emotional health: How much time children spend with each parent based on the average amount of time they spent with that parent before the divorce participating in sports or other activities; frequently, the court will ask what the children would like in terms of custody. Obviously, the older children’s comments may carry more weight than the very young ones, and sometimes the judge neither asks nor considers their testimony at all.
- Proper decision-making: One of the most important components to the health and welfare of the children is the parents’ willingness to work together and discuss issues related to the children in a manner that is civil and productive. This includes following the agreement for visitation, not missing visits, or not allowing the children to go to their visits. Negotiation for vacation time falls in this category as well. Even when vacations are set up in an agreement, there are always details to be hammered out, and they should be handled with aplomb and maturity.
- Logistics: Coordinating schedules such as work and school, sports, dance lessons, visiting friends, how close parents live to one another, calculating for traffic, metro schedules, etc. Many ins and outs must be considered to make the family schedule run like a well-oiled machine.
What Else Can Affect a Custody Arrangement?
It isn’t uncommon for a divorcing couple to have gainsaying opinions regarding what is in the best interests of their children. Custody evaluators are professionals with a background in the behavioral sciences, hired by a parent, both parents, or mandated by the court to conduct a series of observations and interviews of family members, teachers, and coaches to obtain a panoramic view of the children and their day-to-day lives. The evaluator will observe the children at school and watch their social interactions (or the lack thereof) and visits to the home of each parent when the children are with them and any extracurricular activities such as sports or music lessons. A report is assembled over several months. When it is completed, the evaluator will give it to the parent who hired them, both parents if they hired the evaluator together, or the judge if the evaluation was court-mandated. The recommendations proposed in the report are simply that. A judge will not necessarily apply all of the evaluator’s proposals but may take several under consideration. The idea is to create a custodial plan that keeps the children as safe and happy as possible.
The Children’s Best Interests Are Always the Focus
Frequently, marital disputes covering a multitude of topics arise during the divorce process. Feelings are hurt, tempers flare, and suddenly, the children become the bargaining chips or are held hostage by one parent to hurt the other in a game of “keep away” aimed at extorting certain outcomes in the divorce proceedings. Unfortunately, when the best interests of the children are not the primordial concern of the parents, mental and emotional damage is induced in ways that could be permanently scarring. Arguing in front of the children, insulting one another, speaking disdainfully of one another with the children, asking them to choose one parent over the other, interrogating them after having spent time with the other parent, or discussing financial matters with them or in front of them are comportments that can irreparably damage the children’s well-being.
Do you need help with your divorce? Are your children’s needs at the top of your list?
At Montanari Law Group, we understand how difficult the divorce process can be for the whole family. We will work with you to determine the appropriate course of action to keep the best interests of your children in mind. Parental plans, custody agreements, and child support must be set in a way that is beneficial to the changing family. Let us collaborate with you to find the answers you need.
Your children deserve the best and that is what we offer when assisting you with achieving the best configuration for them, amidst changes and challenges. Feel free to call us at (973) 233- 4396 to set up a free consultation.