Insight

Important Considerations in Determining What Is in the Best Interest of a Child

When courts make determinations about child custody they will make the decision based on what they believe is in the best interest of the child.

Best Interest of a Child
HB

Hossein Berenji

October 23, 2017 11:36 AM

When parents decide to get divorced, the children are the ones who are at risk of suffering the most. Breaking up the family also means learning to live a new kind of life. Parents may have difficulty agreeing about how physical custody of their child (or children) should be awarded. When parents cannot agree the courts will intervene.

When courts make determinations about child custody they will make the decision based on what they believe is in the best interest of the child.

There is no nationwide standard for determining what the best interests of a child are. Each state has laws that help to guide a court in making this sort of determination. Generally, states encourage the courts to make decisions based on the factors that would best serve a child’s health, well-being, and education. These factors will vary in each state, but there are a few that are at the core of this decision.

Courts are inclined to make custody determinations that keep children in meaningful and continuing contact with both parents. This will often result in more joint custody arrangements. Even if a parent is awarded sole physical custody of a child, the other parent will likely be awarded significant visitation. Courts may limit a child’s contact with a parent if there is proof of domestic violence, substance abuse, or other issues that could endanger the child. If these issues are absent, however, parents will generally not lose the right or ability to see their child just because they are getting divorced.

An increasing number of states want to know what arrangement the child thinks is in his or her best interest. Today, at least 12 states have laws that require courts to hear the testimony of children who are either of a certain age or exhibit the maturity necessary to make an informed decision. Having a child testify during a child custody hearing can be a powerful tool for a parent who wants a favorable custody determination. Children who offer testimony that is objective and thoughtful will often receive greater consideration from the court. Objective and thoughtful reasons for why they would prefer to live with one parent rather than the other can help shape a court’s best interest determination. The best testimony will reflect that a child has (1) a strong emotional bond with a parent; (2) an interest in remaining in a specific school district; (3) close relationships with siblings; and (4) an established social network that would be disrupted if the child were forced to relocate. While courts are not required to base their decision solely on what the child wants, it must be based, at least in part, on the child’s preference.

It is important to note that there are also factors that courts cannot take into consideration when determining what is in the best interest of a child. At least one state prohibits courts from considering the parent’s gender when making custody determinations. This means that neither the mother nor the father has an advantage because of his or her gender. Both parents are on equal footing. Other factors, such as violent tendencies or substance abuse that are unrelated to gender, can be considered. Another factor that may be prohibited is the socioeconomic status of each parent. Just because one parent is wealthier or more financially stable than the other parent is not a basis for determining what is in the best interests of a child. Alimony and child support payments exist to correct any financial disparities following a divorce. Finally, some states prohibit courts from taking a parent’s disability into account when making child custody determinations. Each parent has an equal right to care for his or her child, regardless of any disability that they may have.

Some states allow courts a great deal of discretion when determining what custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interest. Other states require judges to follow explicit balancing tests to arrive at a decision, offering them very little discretion. It is important to know which factors will play a role in a child custody battle. If parents have a choice of where they can file for a divorce, it may be helpful to understand which laws will be most helpful in their specific case.

---------------------------

Hossein Berenji is an attorney and founder of Berenji & Associates, a Los Angeles family law firm. Mr. Berenji is a lifelong Los Angeles resident and attended prestigious UCLA and Loyola School of Law. He has over 16 years’ experience helping family law litigants.

Phone: 310-271-6290
Email: info@berenjifamilylaw.com

Related Articles

Clients Should Understand Basic Financial Consequences of a Divorce


by Steven Fernandez

Spouses who get divorced will have to adjust how they file their taxes, what income and liabilities they must report for tax purposes, and even how they approach discussions about alimony and spousal support.

Divorce Finances

What If Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Had a Premarital Agreement?


by John M. Goralka

Oh, the gritty details we’re learning from the latest court battle between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. This unfortunate airing of dirty laundry may have been avoided with a prenup. Should you think about getting one yourself?

What If Johnny Depp & Amber Heard Had Prenup?

How to Navigate False Abuse Claims in a Child Custody Case


by Ashley Jones

There’s hope for families to recover—a good lawyer is key.

False Abuse Claims in Child Custody

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers: Family Law Publication


by Best Lawyers

Featuring the top legal talent in Family Law and Trusts & Estates.

Announcing Best Lawyers Family Law 2022

Crossing the Line


by Joseph Trotti

Divorce can be difficult, complicated and emotionally exhausting. Divorcing across state lines ups the jurisdictional complexity significantly.

Jurisdiction and Divorce Across State Lines

Trouble at Home


by Brittney M. Miller and James J. Vedder

Decisions about custody and parenting time after a separation or divorce are never simple. Family violence of any kind makes the process all the more complex—and the victim isn’t always the beneficiary.

How Domestic Violence Complicates Custody

Prenuptial Peril


by Laura Wheatman Hill

Prenups aren’t always bulletproof, but there’s hope if you end up exposed in a divorce.

Why Your Prenup Might Not Save You

My Husband Didn’t Want to Stay Married…But He Didn’t Want a Divorce


by Jennifer Billock

Patience—and the law—prevails when an uncooperative partner avoids divorce proceedings.

Divorcing an Uncooperative Partner

My Lawyer Failed Me as an Advocate in My Parents’ Divorce


by Rebecca Rush

Here’s how to ensure your children are respected during a custody battle.

Representing Children in a Divorce

What Happens to Credit Card Debt When I Get a Divorce?


by Hossein Berenji

In a community property state like California, credit card debt may be shared between partners.

Credit Card Debt After Divorce

New Year Ushers in New Formulas for Calculating Maintenance Payments in Divorce Proceedings


by Timothy E. Weiler

The anticipated outcome of the adoption of the increased income threshold is to reduce litigation about the amount of maintenance to be paid by simply applying the statutorily mandated calculation to more individuals with a much higher annual income.

Maintenance Payments

Trending Articles

The Real Camille: An Interview with Johnny Depp’s Lawyer Camille Vasquez


by Rebecca Blackwell

Camille Vasquez, a young lawyer at Brown Rudnick, sat down with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer to talk about her distinguished career, recently being named partner and what comes next for her.

Camille Vasquez in office

Announcing The Best Lawyers in The United Kingdom™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from the United Kingdom.

The Best Lawyers in The United Kingdom 2023

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: The Best Lawyers Honorees Behind the Litigation


by Gregory Sirico

Best Lawyers takes a look at the recognized legal talent representing Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in their ongoing defamation trial.

Lawyers for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Announcing The Best Lawyers in France™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from France.

Blue, white and red strips

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Germany™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Germany.

Black, red and yellow stripes

Education by Trial: Cultivating Legal Expertise in the Courtroom


by Margo Pierce

The intricacies of complex lawsuits require extensive knowledge of the legal precedent. But they also demand a high level of skill in every discipline needed to succeed at trial, such as analyzing technical reports and deposing expert witnesses.

Cultivating Legal Expertise in the Courtroom

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Belgium™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Belgium.

Black, yellow and red stripes

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in France


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms, including our inaugural Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch recipients.

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in France

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect


by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in Germany


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms, including our inaugural Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch recipients.

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in Germany

We Are Women, We Are Fearless


by Deborah S. Chang and Justin Smulison

Athea Trial Lawyers is a female owned and operated law firm specializing in civil litigation, catastrophic energy, wrongful death and product liability.

Athea Trial Law Female Leadership and Success

U.K. Introduces Revisions to Right-to-Work Scheme and Immigration Rules


by Gregory Sirico

Right-to-Work Scheme and Immigration Rules in

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some


by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

Destiny Fulfilled


by Sara Collin

Was Angela Reddock-Wright destined to become a lawyer? It sure seems that way. Yet her path was circuitous. This accomplished employment attorney, turned mediator, arbitrator and ADR specialist nonpareil discusses her career, the role of attorneys in society, the new world of post-pandemic work and why new Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson represents the future.

Interview with Lawyer Angela Reddock-Wright

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom


by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?