What Exactly Is “The Best Interest of the Child”?


When a 5 or 15 year old says to a judge at a family court hearing, “I want to live with my dad… (Or mom)!” Most judges in some states will take the child’s statement literally and side with him/her. With that said, parents or judges that think that it’s the best interest to do what is said by the child during or after parental divorce may come back to haunt all of them (judges, parents, and the kids when they grow older).

Anyone involved during a legal proceeding when it comes down to “the best interest of the child” will tell you, it’s not a pretty situation for all involved.

In fact, it can come as a shock for those children who are literally thrown to the co-parenting living arrangements.

Severity over leniency

Normally, children will want to go with the parent who seems to be the one they get along with the most, or even the one that is more lenient and less strict than the other. But, in some states the law has changed. What exactly is “the best interest of the child” anyway?

However, according to English law, Section 1(1) Children Act 1989 states that “the interests of any child, it is the paramount concern of the court in all proceedings and, having indicated in s1(2) that delay is likely to prejudice the interests of any child,” it also requires the court to consider the welfare checklist:

  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of each child concerned (considered in light of their age and understanding)
  2. Physical, emotional and/or educational needs now and in the future
  3. The likely effect on any change in the circumstances now and in the future
  4. Age, sex, background and any other characteristics the court considers relevant
  5. Any harm suffered or at risk of suffering now and in the future
  6. How capable each parent, and other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting the child’s needs
  7. The range of powers available to the court under the Children Act 1989 in the proceedings in question. (Children Act of 1989)

Child focus

The necessary welfare of a child should be in the child’s “best interests” because the primary concern is, truthfully, having their essential needs met. Yet, when helping children develop to their fullest potential, parents have to stay “child-focus” and not “parent-focused”.

A child’s development, growth and uprightness are often the corresponding responsibility of both parents. Yet, for every responsibility there is irresponsible act or behavior that is either coming from the parent or the child. Child-focused approaches in the area of divorce are essentially met in the forefront of the “best interests” method.

Indeed, certain living arrangements are sharing parenting duties: core needs should be met according to the legal standard. This then becomes the responsibility of public or private social institutions, social welfare, the courts of law, authorities of administrative and legislative bodies.

What are the Needs of Children: Parental Divorce

After parental separation, the main elements of a child’s well-being are: emotional, social, moral, psychological and spiritual needs. Are these the metaphysical needs all around or are they, in fact, the “best interests of the child”?

Let there be a complete well round understanding of this phrase. When in fact the notion remains vague it becomes the main subject of various interpretations according to various states. In the true sense of parenting after divorce, it’s subjective. It then becomes less value-laden and an open legal order of the court system. With less decision making and little clarification, the definition is precisely “best interests.” And expert definitions often clash with what parents, as well as society because when considering the elements of the expert definition, it often “clashes” with that of the children and parents.

The purpose

Susceptible to having the parents’ needs met, when parents are separated or divorced, there are two main reasons why this happens. Primarily, while transitioning during the difficult stages of life, the results are neglecting the children’s needs instead because parents are trying to fulfill their transition as well. Thereby, parents become unsupportive at times during these changes in attempt to fulfill their own needs, thereby neglecting the responsibilities to their children’s needs. This, in return, illustrates why child pays the price (Souce: Psychologytoday.com).

Finally, in spite of the above, the “best interest of the child,” there is the emotional turmoil the child has to endure when separation takes place, anyway.

Comments (2)
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Courts sometimes focus heavily on the best interest of the child. This article explains why you may decide to as well.


Great article. In child custody disputes, the phrase "best interest of the child" is often used. This is the main law that is used to determine who should have custody of a child or of a group of children.