What Does “Best Interest of the Child” Mean?
Virginia courts use the best interests of the child standard to determine custody and visitation of minor children. This means judges and mediators consider how parenting plans may affect children, and try to make decisions and orders that ensure the child’s life will change as little as possible during and after the divorce. The ultimate goal is to ensure that children will have a meaningful relationship with both parents, if possible. The concept of the best interest of the child can be difficult to understand. So let’s start with a good definition. In the context of child custody cases, focusing on the child’s “best interests” means that all custody and visitation discussions and decisions are made with the ultimate goal of promoting and encouraging the child’s happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development into adulthood. At its core, the best interest of a child should be determined by focusing on meeting the child’s, not the parents’, fundamental needs, as well as encouraging opportunities for his or her development. Of course, the needs and best interests of each child are unique. The child’s health, education, family, interests, and wishes should be taken into consideration.
As defined in the context of family lawIt is much easier to pin down the meaning of the best interests of a child in regards to family law. This concept most often comes into play when planning living arrangements for a child during a divorce or child custody case. The objective of such arrangements should be to not only meet the physical and emotional needs of the child, but also to support the child’s sense of security and well-being. As you might imagine, this often means providing the child with opportunities to develop relationships with both of his or her parents and as many immediate relatives as possible (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) However, the court will also consider if maintaining a relationship with either parent has the potential to have a negative impact on the child’s development.
How the Virginia courts determines the best interest of a childVirginia gives primary consideration to the best interest of the child when planning living arrangements. The following factors are of particular importance:
- The safety, security, and health of the child in the home of either parent
- The current caregiver of the child and the amount of time the child has lived with him or her
- Any possible negative effects on the child’s development and well-being if removed from their current residence
- The child’s level of attachment to parents, siblings and other family members
- The health of both parents (physical, mental, and emotional)
- The religion and culture of the family
- The child’s age and level of development
- Any unique physical, emotional, mental or other special needs of the child
- The child’s current living situation
- Proximity of immediate family members and extended family members
- Parental discipline methods
- History of abuse or violence
- History of abandonment
- Any drug or alcohol addictions on the part of either parent
- The child’s wishes (this may be dependent on his or her age)
- Home environment
- The current residence of siblings
- Any need on the part of the child to adjust to a new school, community, or living arrangement
- The financial resources of each parent