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What does “the best interests of the child” mean?

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2023 | Child Custody

In Pennsylvania, the “best interests of the child” is a legal standard used by courts to make decisions regarding child custody, parenting time and other matters related to the welfare of a child. It is the guiding principle used to determine what arrangements will promote a child’s overall well-being and meet their physical, emotional and developmental needs.

If you are a parent who is going through a divorce or otherwise trying to navigate difficult child custody issues, it’s important to understand what that means – and what it doesn’t.

What sort of things will the court consider in a custody case?

If you and your co-parent are unable to come to an agreement regarding the physical and legal custody of your child, the court will step in and make the decisions for you. When doing so, the court is obligated to consider anything that might be relevant, including:

  • Any issues involving abuse in either parent’s household, regardless of whether the abuse was directed at the child
  • Whether each parent is likely to facilitate the parent-child relationship of the other, and whether either parent has attempted to alienate the child from the other parent
  • Each parent’s engagement in the child’s life, or how much they actually “parent,” as well as their ability to maintain a positive emotional relationship with the child
  • The ability of each parent to provide ongoing stability for the child
  • The relationship of the child to their siblings, and the involvement or availability of extended family as a source of support for the child
  • Each parent’s ability to be available for the child or to provide appropriate childcare
  • Any mental or physical factors (including substance abuse issues) involving a parent or a member of their household that could be important
  • The distance between each parent’s home and how easy (or not) it is to transport the child back and forth

In other words, the court has to take a very nuanced approach to the issue – and the court’s decision may not align with what either parent wants once everything is weighed. That’s why it’s generally better to try to negotiate an agreement with your co-parent and ask for the court’s approval, instead.

Custody issues can be the most emotional and frustrating issues parents have to face. It’s always wise to have experienced legal guidance on your side to better help you understand what perspective the court may have on your situation.