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What do We Mean by a Child’s “Best Interests”?

What do We Mean by a Child’s “Best Interests”?

By: M. Scott Gordon

In matters of child custody, the “best interests” of children are paramount. This is taken as a given in child custody courts in Chicago and throughout the country. For all the focus on this term, however, we don’t often talk about its meaning. What do legal professionals mean when they speak of a child’s best interests, and how might this factor into your child custody case? Read on to learn more.

What the Children Want

With all of the discussion about children’s best interests, you might think that child custody proceedings would be a simple affair of simply asking the children what arrangement they would like. In reality, it is not that simple. Children do have a major voice in child custody proceedings, but they by no means possess the final word. Courts are much more likely to heed the preferences of older children, for instance, who can articulate reasons for wanting to stay in a particular location or with a particular parent. Younger children are deemed less capable of acting in their own self interests, so their preferences are given considerably less weight.

The Status of the Parents

For Illinois child custody courts, the main determinant of children’s best interests comes from their parents. If the court determines that one parent will have more time to nurture and support a child, that parent is more likely to be granted physical custody or even sole custody in certain cases. In looking at parents, courts look at objective factors like job status, income, time off from work, etc., as well as subjective factors like personality and disposition. Taken together, these factors can help the court determine where the children are better off.

The “Status Quo”

In determining what is in a child’s best interests, courts put a lot of weight on the “status quo.” This can confuse many people, as the nature of divorce itself makes major life changes for everyone involved all but inevitable. What courts really mean when they refer to the status quo are custodial arrangements that produce a minimal impact on a child’s life. Unless there are unique circumstances involved such as abuse or domestic discord, the court is likely to keep children in their primary place of residence. So if a child is firmly embedded within a school, home, church, or community, it is less likely that a court would rule to change his or her location.

It stands to reason, then, that for divorcing parents who are also homeowners, the person who continues living in the primary residence will also have an impact on child custody proceedings. Divorce cases are filled with such intertwining factors, requiring attorneys who are adept at managing a range of circumstances.

Call an Experienced Chicago Child Custody Lawyer
If you are seeking skilled legal counsel as you go through a divorce or child custody matter, contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates. From our offices in Chicago and Skokie, we help parents throughout the area protect their right to take an active role in their children’s upbringing. Call today at 313-360-0250 for a free phone consultation.