Best Interest of the Child- What Does it Mean and Who Decides?

When a family with children faces divorce, “Best Interest of the Child” becomes an important term. Where does this come up and what does it mean? “Best Interest” is considered any time child support, time sharing, parental responsibility, or relocation are at issue.

The reality is that parents, whether married or divorced, often disagree about a lot of things when it comes to their children. But during or after a divorce, communications often break down and children get caught in the middle. If parents cannot agree on what’s best for their children a court has to decide for them.

In Florida, courts have tackled this very personal issue of what’s best for children by listing 20 factors that a court will use when children are involved.  While a judge may consider other things, this list is the starting point. The best interest factors are listed in Florida Statute § 61.13(3), and are summarized here.

  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage a continued parent-child relationship with the other parent and the parental responsibilities of each parent, as well as the capacity to consider the needs of the child and not the needs or desires of the parent.
  • The amount of time the child will spend traveling between the parents.
  • The moral fitness, mental and physical health of the parents.
  • The amount of time the child has lived in a stable environment and the home, school, and community record of the child.
  • The preference of the child. (While there is not a particular age where the preference is binding, this is not usually considered for younger children.)
  • The capacity of each parent to be involved in the child’s life and to provide a consistent routine.
  • The ability of each parent to keep the other parent informed of matters regarding the child and adopting a unified front on all major issues.
  • Whether there is evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
  • Evidence that either parent has provided false information to the court regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
  • The division of parental responsibility (Florida prefers shared parental responsibility).
  • The capacity of each parent to be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
  • The ability of each parent to provide a substance abuse free environment for the child.
  • The capacity of each parent to protect the child from litigation by cooperating with the courts.
  • The developmental needs of the child and each parent’s ability to meet those needs.
  • Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.

These best interest factors are merely a guideline of what the court can consider. The statute in its entirety can be found at http://leg.state.fl.us.