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What is meant by “best interests and welfare of the child?”

| Jan 5, 2018 | Divorce |

In any North Dakota divorce involving minor children, the concept of “best interests and welfare of the child” is likely to affect decisions, such as child custody, child support and visitation by the non-custodial spouse. While most people can express an intuitive idea of the meaning of this phrase, very few can list the specific factors found in the state’s divorce statutes. In determining parental rights and responsibilities, the court is given discretion to consider and evaluate “all factors affecting the best interests and welfare of the child.” The list of factors is long, and it cannot be fitted into the space of this post. Nevertheless, a summary list can be helpful in understanding the court’s approach to these issues.

Number one is the “love, affection and other emotional ties” between a child and the parents. This refers to the respective ability of each parent to meet the child’s need for love and emotional support both at the time of the divorce and in the future. The ability of each parent to provide food, clothing, medical care and shelter is also a critical consideration. The stability of each parent’s home environment is also closely examined. Two difficult factors are the moral fitness of each parent and the mental and physical health of each parent. The court must evaluate how each of these factors will affect the child.

The court must also assess external factors in the lives of the divorcing parents. The court can examine the child’s home, school and community records of the child. If the child is old enough to make a sound judgment on which parent should have custody, the court can give due consideration to the child’s preference. If evidence of domestic violence is presented to the court, the judge must engage in a complex evaluation of each parent’s fitness before deciding custody. The court may also consider other factors that it deems to be relevant to a particular parental right or responsibility.

Anyone who is contemplating a divorce may wish to consult an experienced divorce lawyer for advice on how the best interests and welfare of minor children may affect decisions on custody, visitation and support.

Source: North Dakota Century Code “Chapter 14-09-06.2. Best interests and welfare of child – Court consideration – Factors,” accessed on Dec. 30, 2017

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