What Exactly Is The Best Interest of The Child Standard Defined and Meaning
For much of history, and indeed until the last forty or so years, the fate of a minor child, 18 being the age of emancipation, was totally in the hands of the parents or legal guardian. Minor children were “seen but not heard” and even in a courtroom setting decisions were made for them as to what was most convenient and in the best interests of the caregiving adults. Not so anymore. In fact, in many states, Florida being one of these, the standard for legal decisions involving minor children is “The Best Interest of the Child”. How is this defined and what exactly does this mean?
Definition: The definition of The Best Interest of the Child as found in the online legal dictionary is “A standard used in family law to make decisions impacting a child in matters of adoption, child custody, guardianship, and visitation, among other issues. It is a subjective, discretionary test, in which all circumstance affecting the child are taken into account.” Whether the legal decisions made for a child are done privately with all legal caregivers agreeing, as in an agreement made during a mediation, or are adjudicated in the courtroom by the decision of a judge, Florida law requires the ultimate goal for these decisions to promote and encourage the child’s physical and emotional development, mental health, security, and hoped for overall happiness. In Florida the term “parental timesharing”, which will include developing a mandatory parenting plan, now takes the place of the terms “custody” and “visitation”. (There are, however extenuating circumstances when sole custody will be awarded. Click links to learn more about parental timesharing and sole custody) Both parents are expected to nurture their child/children through to young adulthood using the “best interests of the child” standard. To help parents accomplish this, before a dissolution of marriage is granted, both parents are required by law to attend a state approved, four hour Parent Education and Family Stabilization course.
What does “In The Best Interests of the Child” Standard mean? In Florida, statute 61.13 lists 20 guidelines to be considered in each case by the judge who will either make the final decision or approve the agreement on parental timesharing and the parenting plan developed during a mediation. The parenting plan will spell out how joint decision making involving medical, discipline, education, and religious concerns will be made. The 20 guidelines found in Florida Statute 61.13 to meet the standard of “In The Best Interest of the Child” are paraphrased as follows:
1. Parents and legal guardians must be able to show how they will consider the best interests of the child before their own needs or wishes.
2. How will parental responsibilities be divided following the dissolution of marriage as well as how much time the child will spend with a third party such as a grandparent or caregiver?
3. In the past, how has each parent and legal guardian shown that the care and decisions made for the child were in the child’s best interest?
4. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, healthy environment and consideration if this same environment should continue.
5. The best way to develop a parenting plan which will take into account the time needed to travel to accomplish visitations based on the age of the child/children involved.
6. Moral behavior of the parents or legal guardians.
7. The physical and mental health of the parents and legal guardians.
8. In the past, how has the child behaved and performed at home, in school, and in the community?
9. Consider the preference of a child who has intelligence, understanding, and sufficient knowledge to make their own reasonable choices.
10. How well does a parent or legal guardian know the child? For example: Who are their friends? What do they enjoy doing? What are their favorite foods?
11. Be able to show a consistent framework for routines including meals, homework, bedtime, and discipline.
12. Show both parents are willing to respect each other, especially in the area of their child’s concerns. How will they communicate and are they willing to present a unified front of what is best for their child/children?
13. Is there any evidence a parent or legal guardian has a prior or pending action of child abuse, neglect, abandonment, or sexual violence?
14. Evidence a party has lied regarding activities in section (m).
15. Have parenting tasks been successfully handled pre-trial and is this likely to continue post-trial? This concerns all who will be legally caring for the minor child.
16. Show past and present involvement and interest in child’s school concerns as well as extracurricular activities.
17. Demonstrate how each caregiver will keep the child’s environment free from substance abuse.
18. Prove each parent or legal guardian will not discuss case proceedings with the child or show the child paperwork regarding parental timesharing. Further, each parent shall agree to speak kindly about the other parent in front of the child.
19. Show that each parent and legal guardian understands about the developmental stages and subsequent needs of any minor child involved.
20. All factors deemed important when making a specific parenting plan, as well the timesharing schedule.
As with most issues involving a contested dissolution of marriage (divorce), especially when there are minor children involved it is imperative to find an experienced Family Law Attorney to guide and represent you. For those living in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, or Hillsborough counties in Florida or in Washington, DC, Attorney Grant Gisondo is ready to help with over 10 years of experience in Family Law. His office is in Palm Beach Gardens where he offers a free, initial, in-office consultation. He will meet with you personally to answer questions and share how he can help. Call (561) 530-4568 for an appointment. New clients can make appointments on Saturdays from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm as well as on weekdays.