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What 'best interests of the child' means

Texas parents are often advised to keep the best interests of their young children in mind when ending a marriage. In fact, nearly all courts use that standard to make child custody decisions when parents aren't able to work out an arrangement on their own. Ultimately, a court is likely to determine what constitutes "best interests" when making custody-related decisions based on several factors.

In child custody cases, an initial consideration is usually evidence of the ability to meet a child's physical and emotional needs. Parents' physical and mental health may also be considered. Family court judges usually look at living, school, and child care arrangements when considering how to maintain consistency with a child's routines. With young children, judges often prefer to award custody to the parent who has been the primary caregiver. A child's wishes may be considered if they are old enough to articulate them, although judges are likely to deny custody requests if there's evidence suggesting a child may not be safe.

How a change in living arrangements may affect children is another key consideration. Parents may be able demonstrate that they have their child's best interests in mind by showing patterns of involvement and sensible decisions. In some instances, judges might consider whether or not one parent is willing to maintain a fairly amicable relationship with the other one. But they tend to be hesitant with custody requests if a parent plans to limit the other one's access to the child or move to a new location. A relocation may be seen as a positive move, however, if it could be beneficial in certain ways.

Courts often prefer joint physical custody arrangements whenever possible. If this isn't an option, an attorney may help present evidence showing that the client seeking sole custody is still keeping the best interests of the child in mind. Even when one parent is granted primary custody, there usually is still a need to set up a reasonable visitation schedule.

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