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What exactly does "best interests of the child" mean?

Child custody is one of the most contentious issues involved in any divorce. Who will get custody? If I'm the father, will I get to see my kids? Who will have a say in how the child is raised? What if I believe the child is in a dangerous environment?

These are all common questions many parents ask. In some instances, couples on amicable terms make their own child custody arrangements that are best for their circumstances outside courtroom walls. In other instances, a family law judge will decide.

When making decision involving children, a judge will look at the "best interests of the child" standard.

But what exactly does this mean?

The "best interests of the child" basically means what it says. Decisions regarding where a child lives, his or her medical care, where he or she goes to school, etc, are all going to be decided based on what's in his or her best interest and what will ultimately cultivate that child's happiness, security and development as he or she grows up.

In the state of Florida, courts presume that it's in a child's best interests to have both parents a part of his or her life. There is never a presumption that custody will automatically go to either parent.

Each situation, however, is examined on a case-by-case basis. Judges often look at various factors in making child custody decisions including:

  • Age, sex and maturity of the child
  • A history of domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse in the home by either parent
  • Relationships with siblings, grandparents, relatives, classmates or friends in the child's current environment
  • Religious activities

Further, if the child is mature enough, his or her preference will likely have an influence on the judge's ultimate decision.

There are many other factors court look to before making any decision regarding custody and visitation. Individuals seeking a more exhaustive list and how they are applicable to specific situations are encouraged to seek the guidance of a family law attorney.

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