Best Interest of the Child: Standard & Factors

Instructor: Janell Blanco
This lesson will discuss how the courts determine what the best interest of the child is and what standards and factors they use to make these decisions. After learning about these standards and factors, you can test your knowledge with a quiz.


Katie's parents are getting divorced and the judge will decide who she gets to live with. Katie is seven years old and she loves both of her parents but her mom has a drinking problem. The judge will ultimately decide what the best interest of the child will be and determine custody.

The best interest of a child doesn't have a standard definition but the term refers to giving the courts the responsibility to decide which services, actions, and order will best benefit the child. Additionally, in the best interest of the child, such as with Katie, the court will decide which parent or caretaker is best fit to take care of the child. When the courts make the decision for the best interest of a child, there are several factors that the court system takes into account.


Each state in the U.S. has different factors they use when determining what situation will be in the best interest of the child. There are 21 states and the District of Columbia that have specific factors they use, so we obviously don't have time to cover every single one.

It's more generalized for several other states. There are 15 states that factor in the relationships between the child and the caregivers, siblings, residents of the home, and the parent. Nine states factor in the parents' ability to provide for the child. The courts want to know the following:

  • Can the parent(s) provide a safe home?
  • Will there be adequate amount of food in the home?
  • Will the child receive proper medical attention?
  • Will the child have proper clothing while residing in the home?

Not only do the factors include the well-being of the child but also some states, such as Illinois, make decisions based on the child's age.

One final factor that is considered in eight states is the mental and physical health of the parent and the child. Is the parent able to properly care for the child? Katie's mom has a drinking problem. The judge with Katie's case would have to look closely at both of Katie's parents. Katie's mom does care and provide for her and only drinks after Katie goes to bed. The judge will have to determine if Katie's mom's alcohol problem inhibits her ability to properly care for Katie before determining custody and the best interest of the child.

All factors are obviously important because the child needs to be taken care of. The courts need to make sure that the best interest of the child is being taken into account when placing the child in a home or giving a certain parent custodial rights.


When determining the best interest of the child, there are not only factors but also standards that apply. Each state also has their own set of standards or guiding principles that lead them to decide what the best interest of the child is.

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