When a child custody dispute arises, there is one phrase that parents and other caregivers are going to hear over and over again -- the "best interests of the child." All child custody decisions -- no matter whether the dispute is between two divorcing parents, between parents who have never been married or between parents and other parties -- are going to be decided according to the best interest of the child standard. But, what exactly does this mean?
According to the Federal Children's Bureau, there is no national best interests of the child standard. Instead, this phrase describes the process by which child custody cases are decided. Instead of making generalized rulings, or applying the same standard to each case, family court judges will make child custody decisions based on the individual circumstances in each case. The judge will look at a series of factors to see what is really best for the specific child or children in question.
The specific factors that a judge will consider vary significantly in each state across the U.S. In California, courts have a lot of discretion when it comes to making child custody decisions. In general, the court's goal is to strengthen the child's family ties as much as possible.
Given the fluid nature of the best interests of the child standard, child custody disputes can be complex. Getting the right information about this standard and how it applies to a particular child custody dispute can be a good first step to reaching a resolution.