When family courts decide issues relating to child custody decisions, the law requires that they do so in a manner that “will best promote the interest and welfare of the child.” This is also referred to as the “best interest of the child” standard. If you are looking for a definition of this term, it doesn’t exist. Instead, it is an intentionally undefined term premised on the notions that every child is different and courts need flexibility when making critical decisions about their futures.
As family law attorneys with decades of combined legal experience, we have a proven track record of helping clients resolve child custody disputes by agreement and in the courtroom. While courts are allowed to consider “all relevant factors” relating to a child’s best interest, we understand what information stands out to courts when it comes to determining a child’s best interest.
Courts care about children. Almost any family court judge you ask will tell you that child safety is among the major issues that keep them up at night. If there is evidence of domestic violence between parents, child abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, or risks to the safety of a parent or child by another parent, courts will take these allegations very seriously. In response, courts can enter orders for the safety of the child, like protective orders or custody orders that restrict the access of the offending parent.
On the other hand, courts treat false allegations of domestic violence or child abuse harshly. Not only does this shatter the credibility of a false accuser, but courts will also weigh this conduct heavily when reaching custody and visitation decisions.
Normalcy for the Children
Courts are well aware that children face a shattered sense of security when their parents separate. To minimize the disruption of this traumatic event, courts will try to create as much normalcy for the children as possible. Courts often favor children remaining in the home they know with the parent who has been their primary caretaker and staying enrolled in the same school.
Courts Want Children to Thrive with Both Parents
Based on the stated public policy of the North Carolina legislature, family courts presume that children should have “active and ongoing” relationships with both parents. Of course, this presumption is overcome when safety or parental fitness is at issue. But when both parents are suitable, courts will generally find that ample visitation and access to both parents serve the children’s best interests. Even though courts will commonly appoint one parent as “custodial” parent and the other as non-custodial, they will approve or order parenting plans that allow the non-custodial parent to have frequent contact.
Courts want Healthy Co-Parents
Something that drives judges crazy is parents who bicker and fight at the expense of their children. This is emotionally damaging to children, who reasonably conclude that they have to choose one parent over the other. Instead, courts want to encourage and reward parents who can co-parent healthily. Courts may order co-parenting classes or counseling for parents to encourage healthier communication with one another.
A Child’s Desires
Courts can hear from children who are mature enough to express themselves. The desires of a child can be a strong indicator as to how a custody and visitation schedule will work. A court can hear the desires of a child in a variety of ways: 1) in chambers, outside the presence of the courtroom and the parents; 2) judges can require an older child to testify in the courtroom; and 3) a party can ask the child to be appointed a guardian ad litem or a “child’s advocate” to speak with the child and report his or her wishes back to the court. Sometimes, these conversations help push the judge in a specific direction, but the court is not required to do what the child says.
Contact New Direction Family Law
New Direction Family Law helps men and women resolve child custody issues. With decades of combined legal experience, our attorneys have the tools and knowledge to effectively fight for your parental rights. With a client-focused practice, we pride ourselves in providing responsive, compassionate communication with our clients. We take our duties to our clients very seriously. Let us help you. We serve men and women throughout Wake, Johnston, Durham, and surrounding counties. Call us at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation or visit us online through our website.