What Does the Phrase “Best Interests of the Child” Mean?

What Does the Phrase “Best Interests of the Child” Mean?

Virginia uses the “best interest of the child” standard to determine which party receives legal and physical custody of a child in a divorce or custody dispute. At first glance, the term “best interests of the child” may seem straightforward. However, depending on the circumstances, determining what is in a child’s best interest may not be so simple. Even parents who agree on the general idea of what is best for a child may strongly disagree on what those ideas look like in practice. Fortunately, Virginia Code § 20-124.3 provides guidance by enumerating the factors that a court must consider to determine the best interests of the child in a custody and visitation dispute.

Virginia’s Best Interests of the Child Factors

To answer the question of what is in a child’s best interests in divorce and child custody and visitation matters, Virginia courts examine the following ten factors:

  1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
  2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
  3. The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of the child;
  4. The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers, and extended family members;
  5. The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
  6. The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
  7. The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
  8. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express such a preference;
  9. Any history of (i) family abuse; (ii) sexual abuse; (iii) child abuse; or (iv) an act of violence, force, or threat that occurred no earlier than 10 years prior to the date a petition is filed. If the court finds such a history or act, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and
  10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.

If you are in the middle of a divorce or custody and visitation dispute, it is important to speak with an attorney to review each of the above factors and discuss what type of custody and parenting time arrangement may best suit your child’s needs.

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