Child's Best Interest in Custody Cases

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Nearly all courts base child custody decisions on the best interests of the child standard. This means that the judge will determine the custody arrangement that best suits the child’s needs, based on a variety of factors. The factors the judge considers will vary depending on the state in which the case is filed, since every state handles child custody cases slightly differently.

Determining the Best Interest of a Child

Generally, the factors a judge will consider when determining the best interest of a child include:

  • Child's age: Young children generally need more hands-on care. Courts look at the bond between child and parent when evaluating child custody options. In addition, when children are young, judges frequently defer to the parent who has been the primary caregiver in the child’s life. Some courts also will consider the child's wishes, depending on their age.
  • Consistency: Courts generally prefer to keep kids' routines consistent. This includes living arrangements, school or child care routines, and access to extended family members. Family court judges prefer not to disrupt a child's routine when possible.
  • Evidence of parenting ability: Courts look for evidence that the parent requesting custody is genuinely able to meet the child's physical and emotional needs, including food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, emotional support, and parental guidance. Courts also consider the parents' physical and mental health.
  • Impact of changing the existing routine: When considering a change, the courts also try to determine how that change would affect the child. Generally, judges try to limit changes that would have a negative impact.
  • Safety: This factor is always top of mind in family court, and judges will readily deny custody in cases where they believe the child's safety would be compromised.

What to Show the Court

You can show the judge that you have your child's best interests at heart by showing that you have been actively involved in his or her life and have provided attentive and loving care.

You can demonstrate this by showing that you have enrolled your child in school, are involved in their education and upbringing, have participated in extracurricular activities, and have made other parenting decisions demonstrating an interest in nurturing your child.

In cases where both parents are involved, the judge may also consider whether one parent is more willing to foster a loving relationship with the other parent, so working to rebuild trust with your ex also can help to demonstrate your intentions.

Factors Against a Child's Best Interests

Judges strongly favor keeping a child in an arrangement that the child is familiar with, such as allowing a child to remain in the same school or neighborhood. To that end, judges generally do not favor an arrangement in which one parent is denied access to the child or where visitation would be difficult.

Even in cases where one parent is granted sole physical custody, the other parent usually has the right to visitation. This is because child custody laws in most states favor custody arrangements that allow both parents to maintain a close and loving relationship with their child.

When Is Relocating Considered Best?

Relocating may or may not be in your child’s best interest. For example, the judge will typically deny a request to move if he or she believes the parent making the request is trying to deny or limit the other parent's access.

However, moving may be in the best interest if the move allows a child to attend a better school, provides access to child care or a support system, or would benefit the child in some other way that can be demonstrated in court.

Finally, remember that the court is looking at your child holistically. They don't just consider whether you're a fit parent. When determining custody, they also aim to keep all other aspects of the child's life consistent while ensuring that both parents have the opportunity to be an active part of the child's life.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Determining the Best Interests of the Child.

  2. Office of Child Support Enforcement. Child Support Report Vol. 40 No. 8.

By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.