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Guidance for Determining The Best Interests of a Child in Family Law Cases

By: Attorney Shira Truitt


The best interests of the child are a principle that is central to many decisions that affect children, including matters related to their care, custody, and upbringing. This principle is based on the idea that the needs and well-being of children should be the primary concern in any decision that affects them.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all actions and decisions that affect children. This includes decisions related to adoption, guardianship, and other matters that determine a child's care and upbringing.

There are several factors that can be considered when determining the best interests of a child. Each state, however, has interpreted those factors according to their state—and each state may interpret the best interests of the child in a different way. Approximately 22 States (Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia list in their statutes specific factors for courts to consider in making determinations regarding the best interests of the child. In eight of these states and the District of Columbia, all the factors listed in the statute must be considered. Three states (Connecticut, Delaware, and Idaho) list factors that should not be considered in the best interests analysis. While the factors vary considerably from state to state, some factors commonly required include the following: The emotional ties and relationships between the child and his or her parents, siblings, family and household members, or other caregivers (fifteen states and the District of Columbia), the capacity of the parents to provide a safe home and adequate food, clothing, and medical care (ten states), the mental and physical health needs of the child (nine states and the District of Columbia), the mental and physical health of the parents (nine states and the District of Columbia), and the presence of domestic violence in the home (nine states).

Under Missouri law, the best interests of the child are determined by considering the child's physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being, as well as the child's need for stability and continuity in their living arrangements. Other factors that may be considered include:

  1. The child's relationships with their parents and other family members: The court may consider the child's attachment to their parents and other family members, as well as the quality of the relationships they have with them.

  2. The child's educational needs: The court may consider the child's educational needs, including their academic progress and any special educational accommodations they may require.

  3. The child's special needs: If the child has any special needs, such as physical, mental, or developmental disabilities, the court may consider these when determining the child's best interests. This includes considering the child's need for additional support or accommodations, and ensuring that their needs are met.

  4. The child's views and preferences: To the extent appropriate for their age and maturity, the court may consider the child's views and preferences when determining their best interests. This includes giving the child the opportunity to express their views and having them taken into consideration in any decision that affects them.

  5. The child's living arrangements: The court may consider the child's living arrangements, including their home environment and the people they live with, when determining their best interests. This includes considering the child's safety, stability, and security in their living environment.

  6. The child's relationships with others: The court may consider the child's relationships with others, including their siblings, extended family members, and friends, when determining their best interests. This includes considering the child's emotional connections to these individuals and the support they provide.

  7. The child's cultural and religious background: The court may also consider the child's cultural and religious background when determining their best interests. This includes considering the child's cultural and linguistic heritage, as well as any religious practices or beliefs that are important to them.

In Illinois, the best interests of the child are determined by considering the child's physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. Other factors that may be considered include the child's relationships with their parents and other family members, the child's educational needs, and any special needs the child may have. The court may also consider the child's relationships with others, including their siblings, extended family members, and friends, as well as the child's cultural and religious background. The child's views and preferences may also be taken into account, to the extent appropriate for their age and maturity.

In addition to state laws, there are also a number of international and national laws and guidelines that provide guidance on how to determine the best interests of the child. These include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, and the Children Act 1989 in the United Kingdom, to name a few.

The best interests of the child are a set of fundamental principles that should guide all decisions affecting children. When considering these factors, it is important to know the factors your state considers and how each factor is weighted. If you want to know more, it may be a good idea to consult an attorney who can guide you through an assessment involving the facts you offer.


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If you need legal advice or a lawyer in Illinois or Missouri, please contact The Truitt Law Firm, LLC for assistance. For more information on The Truitt Law Firm, LLC or to schedule an appointment, please go to www.thetruittlawfirm.com.

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