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What Is Considered the “Best Interests of the Child” When Determining Custody?

When making determinations about child custody, courts generally follow the principle that a child’s best interests, rather than the parents’ desires, should dictate custody and visitation rights. While the parents’ needs are still considered, family courts tend to place more emphasis on the child’s adjustment and development.

In Virginia, a child’s best interests are determined based on several factors, including the child’s age, mental health, physical health and gender. Environmental factors, such as community safety, school quality and extracurricular options, are also taken into account. Other considerations include the parents’ ages, health, maturity, capacity to provide for the child financially and emotionally and willingness to promote contact between the child and the other parent, which may be indicated by whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to the child.

The court may also factor in the existence of other siblings or significant family members, the parents’ social backgrounds and lifestyles, and any history of physical or sexual abuse.

Each case is different, however, and other factors may be considered when deciding on a custody agreement that meets the needs of all parties involved. The child’s preference may also be considered if the child is sufficiently mature (typically, at least 12 to 14 years of age).

At certain times, an existing custody or visitation order must be modified to accommodate a significant life change, such as a job loss or other major shift in circumstances. While the changes that result might hinder the child’s adjustment, this does not mean the court isn’t considering the child’s best interests.

If you or someone you know is currently going through the divorce process or would like to make a modification to an existing custody or visitation agreement, it’s best to seek the help of a skilled divorce attorney in Virginia.

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