For many divorcing parents, child custody is the single most stressful factor in their separation. You may have heard the phrase “the child’s best interests.” Most states consider the child’s best interests when deciding custody, visitation, and child support. In Texas, judges use a variety of factors to determine the best custody arrangement for a family.
The phrase “best interests” is intentionally open-ended; it allows judges to use their discretion in each case they oversee. However, judges are expected to rule in line with public policy, which states that:
- The child should have continuous contact with both parents as long as both parents act in the child’s best interests
- Parents should be permitted to share child-rearing duties
- Children have a right to a safe and nonviolent environment
Factors That Affect a Child’s Best Interests
The factors used to evaluate a child’s best interests are based on decades of parenting research and child development research. In a child custody case, the judge may consider:
- The physical needs of the child: Feeding, clothing, shelter, hygiene, and other considerations
- A child’s emotional needs: The bond that the child has with each parent and the ability of each parent to help a child navigate their emotional growth
- Each parent’s ability to parent and carry out standard child-rearing duties
- The availability of resources needed for the child to flourish in their development
- Each parent’s current and future plans regarding education, relocation, and other important topics
- The ability of each parent to encourage and support the child’s relationship with the other parent
- The stability of each parent’s home life
Most cases involve two caring parents who are generally able to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs. However, there are some extenuating circumstances that the court may be forced to consider. If either parent has put the child in emotional or physical danger—or is likely to in the future—the court must consider that fact while making its decision. The court will also look at any acts or omissions that may make a parent unfit.
Needs at Each Stage of Development
Children’s needs evolve rapidly, and the court will weigh the child’s specific developmental stage while making custody decisions. For example, for an infant, the court may ask about each parent’s ability to feed, bathe, and comfort the child, as well as their knowledge of infant safety. Once a child reaches school age, the court may inquire about each parent’s role in the community and school, how each parent facilitates the child’s friendships, and how each parent addresses educational needs and difficulties.
Wondering how divorce will affect your time with your child and what you can do to protect your parenting rights? We are here to help. Call Von Dohlen Law Firm to discuss your legal needs.