This blog highlights specifically the legal definition of the “best interest of the child” as relates to DC child custody litigation:
All cases involving and relating to the children in family matters; termination of parental rights/adoption, guardianship and child custody and neglect – all invariably use the “best interest of the child” criteria as a paramount factor in the reaching the final order and the legal analysis substantiating that order.
The court looks at different but similar legal elements in each family matter to define the “best interest of the child” criteria.
In balancing relevant factors in a DC child custody litigation, and in awarding physical and legal custody to one parent or jointly or shared in some fashion – – the court considers and balances the following factors:
- The child’s bond with each parent and the child’s desire and preference when applicable as to where he/she wants to reside. In the District the age of consent is generally 14, and thus, at that age or above the court will require and factor in heavily the child’s preference.
- Each parent’s position/desire will be balanced as to both physical and legal custody arrangement. Parents willingness to work with each other, conflict resolution, outcome of mediation session if any, and generally each parent’s desire to provide healthy and sustainable environment through the presented evidence will be considered and credited accordingly. The court is particularly interested in witnessing in the court proceedings a parent who demonstrates that the child’s interests have been consistently held above their own.
- The relationship of the child and each parent will be evaluated and compared. Often times the court will appoint a GAL (guardian at litem) to assist the court in ascertaining the relationship and the child’s desire. In even more complex cases, the court will also would want the opinion of an appointed or an on-going therapist as well. If there are siblings, then the court will also consider relationship between the sibling and the sibling’s primary custody placement. Whenever, possible the court will make every effort to place siblings together — in a same custodial household.
- Physical and emotional health of all parties –the child, and each parent is considered and compared by the court in determining the most emotionally stable household not just short term but long term as well. Any mental illnesses, finding of neglect, or other domestic violence by any of the parents can severely sway the outcome of the case.
- The child’s connection and contact to the school, community and other social activities are also balanced and compared. For example, if the child is in a special education program excelling at the program close to home of one of the biological parent, the court will factor in the educational aspect most likely in favor of the parent who has enrolled and maintained the child in that school. Extra curricula activities and programs are generally secondary consideration
- The court will also consider such minor and rather indirect aspects of the compared-parenting in determining who is best suited to have physical custody. Parents employment obligations, income, extended family, other children in care, child support payment history, criminal records, and courtroom demeanor and posture are all considered as well.
- Intra family offenses generally are considered to be significant tipping and direct evidence. For example, if there has been a neglect finding or CFSA investigation, stay away or restraining order, domestic violence/assault, etc. – such can easily depending on the severity and factual basis persuade the court’s award of custody to one parent versus the other.
It is also critical to recognize that all family cases are tried and ruled on by Judges as non-jury demandable – it is critical that from the very first appearance parents conduct themselves with poise and professionalism. Judges are objectively subjective, and it is important to keep that in mind at every court appearance.
Refer to our DC Family law/DC Child Custody page for more information on this subject.