Understanding The ‘Best Interests Standard’ In Custody Determinations

When it comes to determining child custody in any legal proceeding, Texas courts utilize the best interests standard in helping them decide what type of possession and access schedule is best for the child or children involved.

However, what does this best interests determination mean? What are considered to be the “best interests” of the children?

Case-by-Case Basis

Texas courts give judges discretion to make a determination on what is right for the child. The only requirement is Texas courts must follow Texas public policy when making the determination. Public policy is that:

  • The child has frequent and continuous contact with each parent;
  • The child lives in a safe, stable and violent-free environment; and
  • Both parents share in the rights and duties of raising the child.

However, these public policies are in a perfect world standard.

The court will also review a variety of other factors to determine more about what is best for the child, including reviewing evidence on the following:

  • What are the emotional needs of the child?
  • What are the physical needs of the child?
  • Are both parents capable of caring for the child in the same manner and on the same level?
  • What is the living environment of each parent’s household?
  • Are the parents stable?
  • What are the plans each parent has for caring for the child?

Helpful Tools

In addition to basic testimony, courts do have resources available for making this “best interests of the child” determination. One of these tools is using a Guardian ad Litem.

This person represents the child and is an attorney that is appointed by court to formally represent the children. The Guardian ad Litem interviews the parties and the children, depending on their ages, and investigates the home situation to see where each child will be living with each parent.

In the end, the Guardian ad Litem presents the report to the judge and gives an official recommendation on what is in the child’s best interests. Judges rely heavily upon these reports when determining what is in the best interests of the child.

In some situations, courts will order a home study of both or one of the parent’s homes. This study starts with a random stop at the home to get an idea on what the home environment is like.

Home studies look at whether there is adequate sleeping arrangements for the children, if the home is dirty, whether the home has food in the kitchen for the children, etc. This report will also be presented to the judge for review.

Wishes Of The Child

If the child is over the age of 12-years-old, the court may consider the wishes of the child when determining what arrangement is best for the child. The court will meet with the child in chambers, meaning not in the courtroom in front of the parents, and talk generally about what the child feels regarding each parent.

While the court will not make the decision completely on the child’s statements, they will play a part in the determination.

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation occurs when one parent actively attempts to prevent a relationship from being nurtured between the child and the other parent. Since public policy encourages both parents to be a strong part of the child’s life, it is important that the custodial determination encourages a relationship with both parents.

If the court believes that one parent will isolate the child from the other parent, they would be less likely to order custody with that parent.

Family Ties

Along those same lines, courts will want to see a connection be furthered between members of the child’s extended family, as well, such as grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Courts will look at whether each parent will encourage this relationship with whatever custodial arrangement is made.

Drug Use And Domestic Violence

The court will also look for evidence of drug use or a history of domestic violence in the home. While public policy does encourage a relationship with both parents, this relationship will not be encouraged if one parent has a history of illegal drug abuse or has a history of violent behavior.

In these situations, sole possession and conservatorship will likely be awarded to the other parent to protect the safety and well-being of the child.

Contact A Custody Lawyer At Scott M. Brown & Associates Today

To discuss what would be in the best interests of your children in a custody determination, please contact the family lawyers at Scott M. Brown &  Associates. You can reach us by calling 281-972-4386. We have offices in Angleton, Houston, and Pearland.

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