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What Does ‘Best Interests of the Child’ Really Mean?

Best Interest of the Child

If you are currently going through a dispute over the custody of your child, you may have heard the phrase “best interests of the child” and wondered exactly what it means. The best interests of the child standard is defined as a legal standard that is used by courts in Arizona when they are making decisions about legal decision-making and parenting time in child custody cases. In Arizona, courts use a number of factors that are outlined in A.R.S § 25-403 help them to decide where the child will live and who will be able to make important decisions for him or her.

This article talks about:

  • What are the Standards for the Child’s best Interests?
  • What Factors are Considered?
  • Child Custody Disputes
  • Proving Best Interests Living with Parent
  • Getting Legal Help

 

In every case, the child’s interests are considered to be more important than the interests of either parent in regards to child custody and visitation. This makes it important for you to understand what the courts consider when they are making custody and visitation decisions.


What are the Standards for the Best Interest of the Child?

In child custody cases, judges focus on what is in the child’s best interests. This means that courts make decisions about custody and visitation with the goal of encouraging the child’s emotional development, mental health, security, and happiness so that he or she will grow to become a well-adjusted adult. In the past, courts generally favored the mothers when they made custody decisions. Now, there is greater recognition that the child’s best interests are best served by the child having the ability to develop a close relationship with both parents. While the ability to develop close relationships with both parents is important for a child, getting the parents to promote their child’s development of a close relationship with the child’s other parent is a common problem in child custody disputes.

It is important for you to try to make the decisions in your custody case in your child’s best interests. The decisions that you make or that the court makes for you will ultimately affect your child and your relationship with him or her for years.

Nearly all courts in the U.S. follow the best interests of the child standard. The states have developed the list of factors for the judges to consider in their statutes. Understanding these factors can help you to know what you might expect and what the court may consider being important in your child custody and visitation case.


What Factors are Considered to Determine the Child’s Best Interests?

The best interests of the child factors are found in A.R.S. § 25-403 and include the following:

  • The relationship between the child and each parent in the past, presently, and in the potential future
  • How the child interacts with and relates to the parent, siblings, and others who significantly affect his or her best interests
  • How well the child is adjusted to his or her home, school, and community
  • If the child is of suitable age and maturity to have an input, the child’s own wishes
  • The physical and mental health of all individuals involved.
  • Which parent is likelier to encourage frequent contact with the other parent
  • Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent.
  • Whether a parent intentionally lied to the court to cause an increase of the litigation costs, to delay the proceedings, or to try to persuade the court to rule in his or her favor
  • Whether child abuse or domestic violence has happened
  • Whether a parent used coercion or duress to obtain an agreement about decision-making and parenting time
  • Whether a parent has complied with the Court’s educational programs
  • Whether a parent has previously been convicted of falsely reporting child neglect or abuse

When the court issues its’ custody and visitation orders, the judge will make a record about the factors that he or she took into consideration when making the decision. Article 5 of chapter 3 includes A.R.S. §§ 25-351 through 25-355. These statutes deal with taking a mandatory parenting education course about the impact of divorce on children. Under A.R.S. § 25-352, a court may deny a parent legal relief in his or her favor, impose other sanctions, or hold the parent in contempt of court if he or she fails to attend a court-ordered parental education program.

When judges analyze custody cases, they do not concentrate on only one or a few of the factors that are outlined in the statute. Instead, they look at the factors and the cases in front of them as a whole. The presence of certain factors such as a history of domestic violence or child abuse may result in a judge restricting the visitation rights of the perpetrator and awarding sole legal decision-making authority to the other parent. If a parent has falsely accused the other parent of committing abuse in an effort to try to secure custody rights, the court may restrict his or her visitation and award decision-making authority to the other parent.


Child depressed from parents fighting

Resolving a Child Custody Dispute

If you are experiencing a dispute over custody rights and visitation time of your child with his or her other parent, it is important that you keep the best interests of the child factors in mind. You should always think about what is best for your child instead of thinking about what is best for you. Unless there has been a history of domestic abuse or child abuse that was perpetrated by your ex or another issue that potentially threatens your child with emotional, mental, or physical harm, it is likely to be in your child’s best interests to be able to spend generous amounts of time with both you and your child’s other parent. Numerous studies have shown that children grow up to be better adjusted when they are able to develop close, loving relationships with both of their parents.

In many child custody disputes, it is possible to negotiate parenting agreements that work better for both the parents and the child. If you and your ex are able to set aside your differences and put your child’s interests first, you may be able to reach an agreement about decision-making authority and parenting time that will meet everyone’s needs. If you instead litigate the case through the court process, a judge will issue his or her own orders. You might not get what you want out of the litigation process, and the court might rule in your ex’s favor instead of yours.

Some child custody matters will not be appropriate for resolving through an alternative dispute resolution process and will need to be litigated. For example, if you have been the victim of domestic violence by your child’s other parent, you will likely need to go through the litigation process instead of trying to resolve it through mediation. Some examples of other issues that might necessitate litigation include child abuse, parental alienation, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or mental health issues that threaten your child’s welfare.


Child living with divorced mother

Proving Child’s Best Interests to Live With You

If you do go to a custody trial, you will be able to present evidence and to call witnesses to prove to the court that awarding custody to you is in your child’s best interests. At a trial, you can call witnesses to testify on your behalf about some of the factors that the court considers. These witnesses could include teachers, neighbors, family members, and others who know you and your child and can testify about your relationship and parenting abilities as well as your child’s adjustment to his or her school, home, and community.

The court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent your child’s interests in your custody case. The guardian ad litem may observe you and your child as well as your ex-spouse and child. He or she will assess your relationship with and parenting of your child during these visits and make recommendations to the court. If a GAL is appointed in your case, it is important for you to provide him or her with the information that he or she needs.

Avoid engaging in behavior that could hurt your custody case. You should never talk badly about the other parent to your child, to a GAL, or to the court. Badmouthing the other parent will likely cause the court to believe that you will not be willing to encourage your child to develop a close relationship with the other parent, which could harm your custody claim.


Get Help from the Cantor Law Group

Getting help from an experienced custody attorney at the Cantor Law Group may be a good idea when you are embroiled in a conflict over custody and visitation. An attorney may explain the factors that the court considers and offer you an honest analysis of what you might expect. An attorney may be able to help you to negotiate a parenting agreement outside of the litigation process. If it is necessary, he or she may advocate for you through the litigation process. Call the Cantor Law Group today at 602.254.8880 to schedule a consultation.

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