If you are going through a divorce and custody case, you have undoubtedly heard the phrase, “the best interest of the child.” You might wonder what that means in general and also for your family: Will the best interest of your child mean that you won’t get custody? How do you know that what you and your ex-spouse want to do will be in the best interest of your child? Many parents have these concerns, so if you are one of them, read on to learn more about this important topic.
The History of Custody Cases
In the early days of America, child custody cases were a matter of fathers’ rights. Fathers were seen as having the right to raise their children, so in cases of divorce, the children were almost without exception given to their fathers. They might or might not have had any contact with their mothers after the divorce, but either way, they lived with their fathers and, in many cases, worked alongside them on the farm or on the family business.
After the Industrial Revolution, however, fathers generally went off to work and mothers were usually the primary caregivers. During this time, it became common for mothers to be awarded custody. At that time, it was believed that mothers could nurture and raise children better than fathers could. This attitude lasted for many decades. Even two or three decades ago, children usually lived with their mothers and would have visitation with their fathers, perhaps spending every other weekend with him and maybe a week during the summer. The rest of the time, the mothers had custody in most cases.
Recently, it has been shown that it is usually in the best interest of the child to have a close relationship with both parents. Also, judges now will take into consideration what is truly best for the child. In some cases, it might be to live with one parent full-time. In many cases, however, joint custody is what is best for families, so that is what is awarded.
Benefits of Shared Custody
Parents, of course, benefit from shared custody of their children. Both mothers and fathers are usually invested in seeing their children grow and succeed, and when both parents can be closely involved with their child, everyone is happier. Of course, this is not true in every case, but for the most part, shared custody (also called joint custody) is the best-case scenario.
Children whose parents have joint custody of them often do better in school than children who have a relationship with only one parent. They tend to be more emotionally stable, as well. Pragmatically speaking, these children often have better physical health because two parents, rather than just one, are noticing their health needs and any illnesses or concerns that come up. They are often also healthier because both parents pool their resources to care for the child rather than one single parent struggling to make ends meet, possibly cutting corners on food, medicine, and shelter.
It is always in the best interest of the child to meet their needs. All children share some of the same needs, and some children have additional needs that must be met. A judge will be interested in making sure that a child’s needs are met to the best of his or her parents’ abilities and will order custody arrangements as needed. Some of the needs that children have include
- Shelter. If one parent is living in substandard housing and the other has adequate space and shelter, then the one who can provide appropriate housing might be given more time with the child than the other parent. This is in order to meet the child’s need for safe shelter and not a testimony as to whether the other parent is fit or unfit.
- Food, medical care, and transportation. The logistics and resources needed to provide for a child are necessary to meet his or her best interest. If one parent cannot or will not provide food, medical care, transportation to school, and so on, the other parent might be awarded sole custody, as that would be in the child’s best interest.
- Physical and emotional safety. If one parent is abusive or neglectful or is struggling with an addiction or mental illness, it is often in the child’s best interest to live with the other. Depending on the circumstances, unsupervised or supervised visitation might be granted to the non-custodial parent.
- Love and attachment. Some children bond more strongly with one parent over the other. When this is the case, a judge might take that into consideration. With that being said, it is usually in the best interest of the child to develop a bond with both parents, so in this case, a custody agreement might change over time to allow the child to spend increasing amounts of time with the parent who has less contact with them at first.
Developing a Parenting Plan
Most times, parents can develop a plan to meet their child’s best interest without going to trial or having a judge make the custody arrangements. A parenting plan will allow two mature and invested parents to work together to make decisions for their shared child. Parents should not badmouth one another to the child; this can create parental alienation and is detrimental the child. Instead, they should attempt to work together to decide where the child will live, when they will spend time with the other parent, who will have the child on holidays, where they will go to school, and so on. A mediator or a legal resource group can help parents negotiate these types of items as they strive to meet their child’s best interest.
Knowing what to do in a custody case can be very difficult and overwhelming. National Family Solutions is here to help moms and dads who are struggling with meeting their child’s needs while navigating a divorce and custody case. Contact us today to find out whether we can help you act in the best interest of your child.