How Does A Court Determine Your Child's Best Interests?

23 June 2023
 Categories: Law, Blog


Custody cases are often complex, and state laws on custody can vary, but most disputes involve determining the best interests of the child or children involved. At first glance, this concept may seem relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, the "best interest of a child" is not a term with a perfectly established legal definition. Instead, it often occupies a gray area requiring the court's judgment.

Of course, judges follow numerous guiding principles and legal precedents when determining your child's best interests, and you can use this knowledge to help you prepare for a child custody hearing. This article will briefly discuss three essential pieces of information you need to understand how a court may determine your child's best interests and, ultimately, arrive at custody arrangements.

1. State Guidelines Can Vary Substantially

The general principles followed by most states are relatively easy to understand. The court must ensure that one or both parents can provide for the child's basic needs and consider how custody arrangements will affect the child physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, some states also include stricter guidelines instructing the court to examine specific details for each parent.

For example, Texas (and several other states) requires the court to specifically consider whether each parent has the financial means to supply necessities for a child. Establishing your financial capacity will be critical to any child custody hearing in these states. Other factors some states consider include relationships or proximity to other family members and even the physical health of the parents.

2. Courts Often Prefer Joint Custody

Joint custody is often the default position in custody hearings, as most courts will typically feel that two parents better serve a child's best interests. Sole custody is possible, but the parent seeking custody must meet a "better parent" standard. This standard is generally relatively hard to meet and will likely require a trial.

If you're pursuing sole custody, you will need to work with an attorney as early in the process as possible. Your attorney will help you gather evidence, talk to witnesses, and develop a case to prove you can meet this standard. Likewise, defending against a parent seeking sole or full custody will almost always require the help of an experienced attorney.

3. Your Child's Wishes May Matter

As with most other factors affecting custody cases, the importance of your child's wishes will vary by state. While any judge can consider your child's wishes, several states require them to do so. Note that considering your child's wishes as a relevant factor is not the same as granting their request. The court can still decide that other factors are more pressing. 

Contact a child custody attorney for more information.