best interests of the child

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The best interests of the child is a court doctrine used in custody proceedings when two parents are contesting custody of the child. Courts use this doctrine to make decisions regarding which parent will have custody of the child, the nature of visitation rights, and the nature of child support payments.  A list of factors is often used to make such a determination.  The list varies depending on the particular law of the state in question, but may include any of the following:  

  • The existence of a prior agreement between the parties
  • The quality of the home environment and the degree of parental guidance that the custodial parent offers, 
  • The financial status of each parent, the individual needs of each child, 
  • The mental health of the parents, and 
  • The totality of the circumstances. 

For instance, in the New York case Gibson v. Greene, 58 N.Y.S.3d 551 (2017), the court states that it will look at factors including “which alternative will best promote stability, the available home environments, past performance of each parent, each parent’s relative fitness…”

See also Ross v. Ross, 946 N.Y.S.2d 598 (2012).

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]