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How to Protect Children’s Best Interests in Family Law Cases

Legal issues that affect families can be difficult to resolve. These cases will often be related to changing relationships between family members, such as a married couple’s choice to end their marriage and get a divorce or an unmarried couple’s decision to end their relationship. The decisions made can have a huge impact on the lives of children. 

In some family law cases, children can be caught in the middle of disputes between their parents. Their lives may be upended as their living arrangements change and they begin dividing their time between the parents’ separate homes. This can cause emotional distress, especially if children are exposed to conflict or if they are forced to move to new neighborhoods or change schools. Children may also be concerned about how their relationships with family members and friends may be affected, or they may even blame themselves for their parents’ breakup. 

Ideally, parents will want to minimize the negative impact that their divorce or breakup may have on their children. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to focus on children’s needs when a parent is overwhelmed by all of the other issues that will affect them during their legal case. They may need to focus on resolving legal concerns, making financial adjustments, moving to new homes, and many other details while also managing the daily concerns of themselves and their children. 

Because minor children may not be able to advocate for themselves when their parents are addressing issues related to divorce and child custody, family courts have put certain measures in place to make sure children are protected in these situations. The agreements made between parents or the decisions put in place by family court judges must protect children’s best interests. It is important for parents to understand exactly what this means and how they can put their children first as they resolve legal concerns related to child custody.

Legal Considerations Related to Child Custody

When addressing issues related to the custody of children, there are many different types of decisions that will need to be made. Parents will need to determine how they will share what is commonly known as “legal custody,” which involves the right and responsibility to make decisions about how their children will be raised. In most cases, courts encourage parents to share legal custody and cooperate in making decisions about important issues such as the medical care children will receive, their education, and other aspects of their lives.

Parents will also need to determine how to divide “physical custody,” which may also be referred to as “visitation,” “physical placement,” or “parenting time.” Children may live primarily in one parent’s home while spending time with the other parent on certain days, evenings, or weekends, or they may divide their time equally between both parents. When children are in the care of one parent, that parent will be responsible for meeting their daily needs and making any important decisions about emergency healthcare or other issues that may arise. 

The decisions about how parents will divide or share legal and physical custody should be based on what is in the best interest of the children. Arrangements should be made to ensure that children’s health, safety, and well-being will be protected at all times. Ideally, parents will be able to work together to address child-related concerns, discussing issues that may arise and cooperating to make decisions. 

If necessary, parents may establish rules for communication to ensure that they will be able to focus on meeting their children’s needs while avoiding conflict as much as possible. This can often be facilitated through the creation of a parenting agreement or parenting plan, which will be a legal document that will outline the decisions made about child custody, the rules that will apply to parents, and any other terms that may help a couple cooperate as co-parents going forward.

How Courts Determine What Is in Children’s Best Interests

While parents are encouraged to work together to negotiate parenting agreements and resolve issues related to child custody, there may be some situations where courts may need to step in and make the final decisions in a case. When addressing these issues, state laws provide guidelines for family court judges to help them determine how to protect the best interests of the children involved in a case. These guidelines may instruct judges to consider issues such as:

  • The wishes of the parents - A judge may look at where parents’ desires regarding child custody may overlap and the differences between their expectations. They may attempt to find common ground or determine whether the solutions proposed by either parent will be reasonable while addressing children’s ongoing needs.
  • The wishes of the children - Children’s desires regarding where they want to live and when they want to spend time with each parent may be considered. When doing so, a judge may look at whether children are mature enough to express their desires, while also considering other factors that may influence children’s wishes, such as a parent’s strictness or leniency when enforcing rules.
  • Past parent/child relationships - A judge may look at how involved each parent has been in their children’s lives in the past. They may consider a parent’s participation in making decisions about issues such as education and healthcare, whether they have provided care for children at home, and whether they have participated in activities or other important parts of children’s lives.
  • Cooperation between parents - Ideally, courts want to ensure that parents will be able to work together and put their children’s needs ahead of their own desires. A judge may consider whether parents will be able to communicate effectively with each other about child-related issues while taking steps to avoid exposing children to conflict. If necessary, arrangements may need to be put in place to minimize conflict, such as by arranging exchanges of children between parents in public locations or through third parties.
  • Distance between parents’ homes - A judge may look at how far parents live from each other and the feasibility of transporting children between their homes. They may specify when parents will be responsible for picking up or dropping off children at each other’s homes or other locations.
  • Issues that may affect children’s safety and well-being - A judge may consider whether there are any concerns about children’s safety due to a parent’s history of child abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol use, or any other potential concerns. If there is reason to believe that children could be at risk of harm when in the care of a parent, certain restrictions may be put in place, such as requiring a parent’s visitation time with their children to be supervised.

Get Legal Help From a Child Custody Attorney

Because of the complex legal issues that will need to be addressed when making decisions about child custody, it is crucial for a parent to secure legal representation when handling these types of cases in family court. An experienced Chicago child custody lawyer can provide guidance on how a parent can demonstrate that they will be able to provide for their children’s best interests. They can also advocate on a parent’s behalf during legal proceedings, working to achieve an outcome that will preserve important family relationships and help children thrive in the years to come.

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