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What does 'best interests of the child' mean?

Every parent wants what is best for their children. However, during a divorce, parents may not always see eye-to-eye on this matter. In situations where parents cannot reach an agreement regarding parenting arrangements, custody or access, the courts will decide.

Under these circumstances, the courts will make decisions based on what is in the best interests of the child. This phrase can be surprisingly complex, so it can be helpful to understand what it means in the legal context.

Factors the courts consider

In Alberta, the best interests of the child refer to a child's happiness as well as his or her emotional, physical and psychological safety. Some examples of these factors include:

  • Any history of parental violence or abuse
  • Parental capabilities to meet a child's physical and emotional needs
  • The existing relationship between a child and each parent
  • A child's relationship with his or her community and other family members
  • A child's preference
  • Home environments
  • Substance abuse concerns
  • Physical and mental health of each parent

These and other factors help the courts determine where a child can be safe, healthy and supported.

It is important to note that certain factors are not considered by the courts. These factors include gender and financial status of parents.

It doesn't have to be up to the courts

Typically, parents know their children better than anyone else, including a judge. As such, parents often prefer to make decisions regarding custody and access themselves. Doing so can make it easier for parents and children to be satisfied with the results.

However, parents must still prioritize the best interests of the child when discussing any child-related legal matter, including where a child will live and which parent or parents will have decision-making rights.

Protecting children is crucial when parents divorce or separate. And whether parents work together to reach agreements or go to court for a decision, parties must prioritize a child's best interests.

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