Best interests is a term that is used in custody matters to describe a situation that will ensure the well-being of a child. The "best interest of the child" is the standard that family courts use to determine whether to grant custody, guardianship, visitation, or approve an adoption. It is also used during child protective hearings when the judge is tasked with deciding whether to remove a child from his or her parents' custody due to possible abuse or neglect.
There is no single, standardized legal definition of the best interests of the child. When considering what custody arrangement will be in the child's best interest, the judge will look at each parent's ability to care for the child's physical, psychological, and educational needs. He or she will also assess the parents' lifestyles, including work schedules and salary, as it relates to their ability to provide adequate supervision, food, clothing, and shelter.
Courts also evaluate the state of the parents' physical and mental health insofar as it may impact their ability to provide for their children. In assessing the best interests of the child, the court may further consider the gender of the parent, the parents' current relationship with the child, and the child's anticipated needs over the long term. If the parents have a history of domestic violence, the court will consider this when determining whether a living arrangement will protect the child's safety and well-being.
The court may consider the child's opinion about his or her placement when evaluating his or her best interests. Typically, this only occurs if the child is old enough to understand the implications of the custody case. If the child has special medical, emotional, or educational needs, the judge may request expert testimony from the child's teachers, pediatrician, or psychologist in order to get a broader view of what custody arrangement will best ensure the child's well-being.
To determine whether a custody or guardianship arrangement is in the best interests of the child, the court may send a licensed social worker into the family's home. The social worker will conduct interviews with the parents and the children, and assess the physical living environment to make sure that it is safe, sanitary, and has appropriate sleeping spaces for each child. When evaluating the success of the placement and the child's overall well-being after the placement, the social worker may work with the child's teachers to investigate how the child is performing in school and interacting with his or her peers.