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What does "the best interests of the child" mean?

Parents know that children can be very different. Even parents who have multiple children may have observed the very different personalities and needs that their offspring exhibit even though they were raised by the same people and in the same environment. It is because children can have very different requirements for fulfilling their daily needs that courts must examine what will serve their best interests when matters of child custody are being worked out.

To understand this important legal concept, readers are asked to consider two very different children. First, consider a child who is 5 years old and who has a close relationship with their father but not their mother due to a separation that happened shortly after the child's birth. Second, consider a 15 year old child who has grown up in a loving two-parent home and who has a special relationship with each of their parents.

In the case of the 15 year old, it may make sense for the court to work out a custody plan that involves physical custody time in the home of each of the child's parents. Since the youth is close to their mother and father, their interests may be advanced by protecting those important connections.

However, in the case of the 5 year old, the child may not be comfortable with a mother that they do not know. Similarly, it may not serve the child's interests to allow an absent mother to have legal custodial rights over them if she has never had any interest in exercising such rights in the past. It may serve the 5 year old's interests to remain with their father.

These scenarios are offered to show how different child custody matters may be influenced by the specific factors affecting families. There are many issues that courts will look at to determine how to serve children's needs and therefore parents should talk to their lawyers about how their custody cases may be assessed.

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