What Do New Jersey Courts Consider “Best Interest of the Child” During a Divorce?
Posted November 30th, 2023.
Even in the most amicable of divorces, child custody can introduce a spot of contention. After all, though the former spouses want to separate from one another, they don’t want to separate from their children. These two goals require a level of compromise; otherwise, it would be impossible to reconcile them with the court presumption that children should spend time with both parents. As for the courts, they are likely not too invested in the parents’ preferences, as compared to a key legal standard, the best interest of the child. The blog post will detail the different constituent parts of the best interest of the child standard. If you are worried about a potential divorce in your future, don’t delay in contacting a New Jersey family law attorney. We have years of experience guiding and helping our clients.
Best Interest of the Child: The Crucial Question
Typically, courts allow the parents to determine the best interest of the child. The former spouses will be expected to negotiate and coordinate as they put together a parenting plan for the child after the divorce comes into effect. At times, however, parents cannot agree. In that case, the court will step in to make these decisions.
Every child-related topic in divorce proceedings, from custody to visitation to adoption, depends on the answer to a very important question: what is in the best interest of the child? Despite its centrality, “best interest of the child” has no specific legal definition. Rather judges have a list of factors that they are allowed discretion to weigh as they see fit in analyzing the specifics of the case.
What Are the “Best Interest of the Child” Factors?
When courts consider the best interest of the child, they will look to a long list of factors. These factors can in turn be categorized into sub-groupings.
- The physical safety and well-being of the child: This grouping involves fundamental questions of bodily safety and good health. Courts will ask if there is any history of physical or emotional abuse. The key part a judge will need to determine is whether each parent is capable of providing a stable environment where a child can grow and flourish.
- The emotional needs of the child: Judges will carefully analyze the relationship between the child and each parent. What kind of activities do they enjoy together? How much time do they typically spend together? Depending on the maturity of the child, what does the child themselves prefer?
- Parental goodwill and cooperation: Another signification consideration is whether each parent is genuinely trying to work with the other parent in this process of finding the best arrangement for their now-divorced family. It will count against them if either parent is more concerned with monopolizing the situation to their individual benefit than the needs of the child or the reasonable requests of the other parent in negotiations.
- Practical issues: Even presuming the best intent from both parents, there may be other, non-fault-based factors weighing on the situation. How close the parents live to each other and what their work schedules are (among other topics) all have an impact on the parenting plan. This also needs to be taken into account.