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How are a child's 'best interests' determined?

In family law, the concept of what's in a child's "best interests" has generally become the standard when courts are asked or required to step in and make these decisions in divorce cases. That happens when parents can't agree on custody and visitation arrangements or other matters impacting their children.

The goal of this standard is to protect children's overall emotional development, security, happiness and mental health. When possible, it means allowing them to have a loving, consistent relationship with both of their parents.

So how are children's "best interests" defined? Courts consider factors such as each parent's emotional stability, physical health, ability to care for the child financially, whether they have room for the child in their home and the level of contact they've been having with the child. Obviously, if there has been domestic violence or other criminal activity, those are factors as well.

If children are old enough to express a preference for which parent they prefer to live with most of the time, a judge will usually consider that as well. Each child and each situation is unique, and a child's individual needs will be considered by the court.

Of course, a child's best interests aren't just something that should be considered by a judge. Once that custody and visitation decisions are made, ex-spouses need to keep those interests in mind as they move forward as co-parents. This can be difficult if there's still residual animosity.

One attorney and mediator suggests that it may be wise for those who have trouble co-parenting without conflict to work together with a parenting coach. This can help them "be more effective at communicating, making reasonable proposals and managing their own emotions for the benefit of joint decisions truly in the best interests of their child."

Naturally, it's preferable for everyone involved if custody, visitation, child support and other decisions surrounding the children of divorcing or divorced parents don't have to be made by a judge. It's best when parents can work together to develop a parenting plan that puts the child's well-being above all else. Your Nevada family law attorney can provide advice and guidance, whether you and your spouse are able to do that or you need to take the matter to court.

Source: Huffington Post, "Divorce Confidential: Children And The ‘Best Interests’ Standard," Caroline Choi, June 28, 2016

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