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What is the Best Interests of the Children?

Separation of a family by a gavel

Every state in the United States makes custody decisions in divorce or other child custody decisions that are “in the best interests of the children”. However, when clients often ask difficult questions such as what is in the best interests of the children? Where should a child live? How should the child be raise? Where should the child reside? These questions can seem impossible to definitively answer. Of course, there are some situations that are simple: i.e. if one parent is abusive, the children should not live with or reside with that parent. If one parent has debilitating mental health problems such that he or she cannot effectively parent, that parent obviously should not have residential custody of the children. But for most families, these issues are not as black and white.

In both Kansas and Missouri, the judges deciding child custody matters are tasked with considering and determining the best interests of the children. While each state has factors that the court will look at and consider, the overriding consideration is the best interests of the children. Even people who may agree on the general idea of what is best for a child may have strong disagreements about how that can be enacted in a practical way. In both Kansas and Missouri, there are a variety of child custody factors that the courts look to in trying to determine the best interests of the children.

Some of the things that the courts will look at and consider include the following:

The emotional ties between the child and other family members:

For younger children, they often have the closest emotional ties with the parent who has been the primary care provider. Some older children similarly have a much stronger bond with one parent or the other. Obviously, if children have built a stronger bond with one parent or the other over the course of many years or their entire life, the court needs to consider how to maintain and foster that bond to keep stability for the child.

The parents’ interest and attitudes toward the child:

Ideally, both parents have equally focused on their child and their needs. However, in some situations, one parent has shown a clear disregard for the children’s needs. In situations such as this, determining the best interests of the child requires that the court consider this history. Of course, along with this goes the basic abilities to care for the child such as knowing their medical/medication needs, their clothing sizes, preferences, friends, activities and other things important to your child.

Whether each parent will support and maintain the relationship of the child with the other parent:

Many studies show that a child maintaining meaningful relationships with both parents after the parents separate or divorce is crucial to the children maintaining bonded attachments and is one of the top predictors of the child becoming a successful, happy and well-adjusted adult. If the court believes that one parent is going to be incapable of supporting the other parent’s relationship with the child or children, the court will need to determine a parenting plan, in the best interests of the child, that considers this concern.

Whether one parent has abused the other:

When the best interests of a child is considered, the court cannot figure out the child’s needs without determining if a history of abuse between the parents has occurred. This means that the court has to consider the likelihood that the child would be abused and/or any damage done to the child by witnessing, observing or hearing domestic violence between the parents.

How Can You Focus on Your Child’s Best Interests During a Divorce?

Going through a divorce or other child custody matter can be a difficult time for the parents involved. Often your emotions are raw, so how can you as the parent ensure the best interests of the child and make sure you are doing your part to be an excellent, healthy parent for your child’s needs?

Center Yourself. Remember custody issues are emotional, hard processes. Make sure you are staying healthy yourself. Ensure you are providing yourself adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise and other healthy habits. If you are struggling, get yourself some counseling or therapy to make sure you are working on yourself and presenting in the best possible way to your children.

Be Realistic About What You Can and Cannot Offer. While every parent wants to give their children the moon and the stars, if your work schedule or other requirements in your life do not allow you to have as much time with your children as you may desire, be realistic about it and cooperate with the other parent to recognize the realities of your situation, as well as collaborating to maximize the time that you are able to spend with your child.

Put Yourself in Your Child’s Shoes. Every child needs their basic needs met, including safety, food, shelter, clothing and supervision. Children thrive with a regular, known schedule with boundaries they can count on. A parenting plan that the parents come up with, together, based on their common understanding of their children’s needs will always be more successful than a parenting plan that a judge- a stranger to your family- develops.

To get guidance on the best interests of your children, including a child-centered divorce, please call Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation. Put our knowledge and experience to work for your family’s needs.

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