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Custody Arrangements: Best Interest of Child Can Change Over Time

The “best interests of the child” has long been the governing standard in child custody cases. But what does that really mean in practice, as time goes on?

After all, custody of a child depends on many related factors. Physical location, primary caregiving, and the degree of parental involvement are only some of them.

There are also often more daunting factors, such as substance abuse or a history of domestic violence.

Once a custody arrangement or parenting plan is established, however, parents might not be inclined to review it as often as they should. Inertia can set in, and before long an arrangement that seemed to be in the best interest of the child as a toddler may no longer be the case for the child as a teenager.

For example, suppose a custody agreement specifies that a child spends weekends with the parent who does not have primary physical custody. Such an arrangement would probably not be an issue for a toddle, even if the noncustodial parent lives several hours away.

But for a teenager, the effect of this arrangement might be very different. Being away so often on weekends might affect the development of strong friendships with peers at this important age.

This is only one example. But it points to a larger problem. After a custody arrangement is set between the parents, the child often has no real ongoing voice in its implementation.

In fact, in order to avoid potential conflict between their parents, children are likely to suppress their feelings about how the custody agreement is working from the child’s perspective.

Source: “In Whose Best Interests?,” Ruth Bethlehem, New York Times, 5-19-12