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What does 'best interests of the child' mean?

Family legal issues involving children can be very complicated for every party involved. These matters are often highly emotional and legally complex. As such, they may not always make sense to people navigating cases like child custody -- especially for the first time.

For instance, Illinois courts are typically directed to make decisions that align with "the best interests of the child." This standard can seem vague and, at some times, conflicting with parental beliefs. In this post, we will provide some more information on what this can mean.

What are the best interests?

There is no one exact answer to what this means, as every child and every family is different. However, generally speaking, the best interests of the child involve resolutions that preserve and foster a child's mental health, security, happiness and development. 

Therefore, numerous factors go into determining what is in a specific child's best interests. These factors include:

  • The wishes of the child
  • The wishes of the parents
  • Any adjustments the child would experience as a result of the proposed resolutions
  • Parental involvement and capabilities
  • Parental willingness to cooperate with each other
  • Logistical complications, including transportation and daily schedules
  • History of physical violence or abuse

Based on these and other relevant factors, parents or the courts can identify solutions that best protect a child's emotional and physical well-being.

What if the parent(s) disagree with the courts?

Parents often know their children better than anyone else. So, it can be very difficult for parents when courts make (or could make) a decision without truly knowing the child or the family history. 

Because of this, it is often preferable for parents to reach their own decisions on matters likes custody and visitation outside of court and with the guidance of an attorney. This allows them to tailor agreements to their specific circumstances. 

That said, sometimes parents cannot or should not reach agreements themselves. In these situations, the courts will refer to those factors mentioned above to determine what solution will best protect the child.

Ideally, though, any outcome will first and foremost benefit the child involved and allow him or her to feel as safe, happy and healthy as possible.

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