If you’re going through a divorce and have children, you’ve likely heard the term “best interest of the child” and wondered how it relates to your case.
All custody decisions must be in the child’s best interest, meaning the custody arrangement must protect the child’s well-being.
There isn’t exactly a single definition for the best interest of the child. Rather, it’s a set of factors the court considers to determine who should have the right to make child-related decisions (legal custody) and who the child should live with (physical custody). The factors apply regardless of whether parents reach a settlement or go to trial.
To build a strong case, it’s important to know what will drive the judge’s final custody decision and the ways you can show in court that you know what is best for your child.
Factors in the Best Interest of the Child
The best interest factors the court will consider vary by state. Some states specifically spell out the considerations in their child custody laws, while others are more general and leave it up to the court.
Common factors include:
- Parental fitness
- Parents’ histories of crime, violence, or substance abuse
- Who has been the child’s primary caretaker
- Ensuring stability in the child’s life
- The parent-child relationship
- The child’s age
- The child’s physical and mental health needs
- Suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment
Many states also require judges to consider the child’s wants when making custody decisions.
In some cases, the court assigns a guardian ad litem who’s considered a representative for the child’s best interest. They conduct an investigation, make home visits and interview the family members to figure out what parenting arrangement would serve the best interest of the child.
How to Prove You’re Fit for Custody
If you and the other parent aren’t able to reach a settlement, you’ll have to present arguments and evidence in court in favor of your desired custody arrangement. The following are a few examples of evidence that may help you prove you’re the right fit for custody.
Show That You’ve Spent Considerable Time with Your Child
The judge will want to maintain consistency in the child’s life. This sometimes means they’ll award custody to the parent with whom the child has spent the most time.
Custody software can help you track your parenting time and print a report to show in court.
Keep Track of the Caregiving Duties You Perform
Another key factor in the court’s determination is who has been the child’s primary caregiver. It could help your case to write down the things you do for your child. This could include details of preparing meals, helping your child study, enrolling them in school, etc.
Have Reliable Child Care
Something that parents often overlook when preparing their case is child care. If you work, go to school, or have other obligations that will make it necessary for another person to watch your child during your custody time, the judge will want to know you have a safe place for your child to go while you’re away.
Get Credible Witnesses
Ask friends, relatives, your child’s teachers — anyone with firsthand knowledge that you believe will help your case — to share why they think you’re the ideal custodial parent.
Maybe they’ve seen that the other parent hasn’t been as active in the child’s life or that the other parent attempted to sabotage your relationship with your child. These witnesses could provide valuable testimony that can make your case.
Some judges accept character reference letters, in which the witness gives their perspective on why a parent is the best fit for custody.