In domestic law and litigation, the majority of decisions and findings are based on what is in the best interests of the child(ren)1. For example, in determining initial custody or whether to modify custody, the best interests of the child are paramount and the state statutes defining the elements/information to be reviewed use the language of “best interests”2.
But what exactly is the definition of the best interest standard? Put simply, it is truly what is best for the child. However, this is obviously a vague standard that is open to much interpretation. The statutes help break down the standard, and provide further clues as to pinpointing what is in a child’s best interests.
An example that occurs in almost every divorce and paternity case is an initial determination of custody. While joint physical and legal custody is an option, it is not generally the “norm” or standard in domestic law cases. As such, there is often a determination for which parent will be the “custodial” parent.
By looking to the statute regarding custody, one then can glean some of the definitions/factors of what is in the child’s best interest. For example, the custody statute looks to the age and sex of the child. This shows that what is best for one child might not be for another child who is older or younger, or the opposite gender. Also, the statute calls for the Court to look at the interactions the child has with his/her parents and siblings. The best interest of the child is therefore, at least partially, determined by his/her familial relationships and the bonds between parents and siblings.
The custody statute also looks to the child’s adjustment to his/her school, home, and community. Thus, the foundations and everyday surroundings of children and their adjustment to same are factors in determining what is in their best interests. The mental and physical health of all parties involved is also a factor. So, if the child or parent(s) has a mental or physical illness, this may affect what is in the child’s best interests. For example, it is likely not in the best interests for a child with down syndrome who is bonded with a parent and is receiving treatment and services for same to be removed from this secure environment.
“Best interests” is a broad term of art, and may be overwhelming and confusing if not taken in context with related laws and statutes as defined by the Indiana Legislature. Understanding examples and factors that determine what is in the child’s best interests can help sort out and narrow this idea.
We hope that this blog post has been helpful in exploring some examples of a child’s best interests. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.
See, for example, the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines