Custody: the court is not looking for the best parent

In a case involving custody of children, the court is not focused on finding the best parent.  Instead, the court is guided by the principal of finding what is in the best interest of the child.  Unfortunately, the definitions of what constitutes a good parent and what is in child’s best interest are both elusive.

Being a good parent means different things to different people.  Rigid structure is considered good by some, while others prefer a more adaptive approach.  Protecting a child from all potential harms and being vigilant with a watchful eye is the approach some parents prefer.  Others prefer to give their children more freedom and teach self sufficiency.  Some parents guard their children from perceived harms such as influences in pop culture, unhealthy foods and non-educational endeavors.  And while there may be a “consensus” among many as to which form is “better” for a child, it does not make the other approach wrong in the eyes of the law.  The state is not going to step in and remove a six year old from a home solely because they are eating chicken nuggets, playing video games and watching Family Guy.  Neither is a judge likely to disallow a parent custody for these very same reasons.

What a judge may consider is what is in a child’s best interest.  The courts often focus on attempting to establish or maintain a relationship between a child and both parents as being in a child’s best interest.  Where there are not any allegations of abuse against a parent, and there are not issues of drugs or excessive alcohol use or other activities that create a danger of physical harm to a child, courts will generally allow both parties fairly substantial, unsupervised contact with the child.  Where a court perceives one parent attempting to hinder or prevent that contact for no apparent reason, the courts will often turn a critical eye to the parent who is limiting contact.  To the courts, “parenting issues” are generally not deemed sufficient grounds to warrant a lack of contact.  Therefore, unless contact with the other parent presents a danger of harm to the child, parents should think long and hard before denying the other parent access to the child.

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