Best Interest of the Child Checklist

Best Interest of the Child Checklist

What Is the Best Interest Standard?

When making decisions that may affect a child, a judge will look at a variety of factors to help determine what is in the best interests of the child. Examples of decisions that could affect a child include placement and custody determinations, safety and permanency planning, and proceedings for the termination of parental rights.

“Best interests of the child” is a common term you will hear in family courts, as it generally refers to services, orders, and actions that will best serve a child. Considering the gravity of these matters, judges must evaluate a number of factors and circumstances before making a final decision. The “best interests of the child” standard varies on a state-by-state basis, but generally, the most common guiding principles include:

  • The importance of family integrity and preference for avoiding removal of the child from his/her home
  • The health, safety, and/or protection of the child
  • The importance of timely permanency decisions
  • The assurance that a child removed from his/her home will be given care, treatment, and guidance that will assist the child in developing into a self-sufficient adult

Specific factors that are used to determine the best interests of the child also vary by state, however, the most common factors include:

  • The emotional ties and relationships between the child and his or her parents, siblings, family and household members, or other caregivers
  • The capacity of the parents to provide a safe home and adequate food, clothing, and medical care
  • The mental and physical health needs of the child
  • The mental and physical health of the parents
  • The presence of domestic violence in the home

You should consult with an attorney on your state’s specific “best interests of the child” standard before making any assumptions or legal decisions. Generally, though, you should keep in mind the other factors that a judge may consider when determining what is the child’s best interests. These considerations include:

  • Federal and/or State constitution protections
  • The importance of maintaining sibling and other close family bonds
  • The child's wishes

Best Interests of the Child Standards in Georgia

Now that you know how states typically evaluate a child’s best interests, let’s take a look at Georgia laws. According to Ann. Code § 15-11-26(1)-(9), whenever a best interests determination is required, the court shall consider and evaluate all of the factors affecting the best interests of the child in the context of the child's age and developmental needs. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • The physical safety and welfare of the child, including food, shelter, health, and clothing
  • The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and each parent or person available to care for the child
  • The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, halfsiblings, and stepsiblings and the residence of such other children
  • The child's need for permanence, including the child's need for stability and continuity of relationships with his or her parent, siblings, other relatives, and any other person who has provided significant care to the child
  • The child's sense of attachments, including his or her sense of security and familiarity, and continuity of affection for the child
  • The capacity and disposition of each parent or person available to care for the child to give him or her love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child
  • The home environment of each parent or person available to care for the child, considering the promotion of the child's nurturance and safety rather than superficial or material factors
  • The stability of the family unit and the presence or absence of support systems within the community to benefit the child
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child
  • The child's community ties, including church, school, and friends
  • The child's background and ties, including familial, cultural, and religious
  • The least disruptive placement alternative for the child
  • The child's wishes and long-term goals
  • Any evidence of family violence; substance abuse; criminal history; or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse in any current, past, or considered home for the child

As you can see, a judge must evaluate several factors to determine what is in the child’s best interests, as this is not a simple and straightforward decision. A parent in a contested divorce case may go the distance to prove the other parent’s unfitness, making false accusations against their ex in order to get the outcome they want. Further, a judge may make decisions that parents believe are not in the child’s best interests.

For these reasons, it is important to hire an attorney to advocate for your child’s best interests if you are entangled in a family legal matter. Whether you’re in a divorce, looking to enforce or modify court orders, or experiencing another legal issue concerning your family, our attorneys are here for you. Allow us to be your advocates from start to finish, so get started by contacting us at (866) 580-3089!