How “best interests” of the child are determined

“Best interests of the child,” is a phrase you may have heard said a lot when talking about custody. Courts generally decide custody based on what they think best fits the “best interests of the child” but what does that mean exactly?

Determining what the child’s “best interests” are can be confusing and complicated. It can be hard to determine what is actually best for your child.

Here is a brief guide to what “best interests” really means in regard to child custody:


There is no concrete definition of what “best interest” means, since it is subjective and depends on each child’s situation. However, a generalized rule that courts will sometimes use refers to the circumstances and capacities of the parents to provide for the child’s safety and well-being.

This means that the courts determine custody based on who it thinks can best provide a safe, healthy and happy environment for the child.

Factors considered

Some examples of factors that may contribute to such an environment include:

  • Safety of the home itself – location, cleanliness and overall condition
  • Preservation of the child’s life – proximity to existing school or closeness to friends and family
  • Ability to provide – adequate access and provision of food, clothing and care
  • Health of the parent – both mental and physical condition of the responsible adult

New York specific guidelines

Each state also has statutes that state courts consider when determining custody.

The state of New York requires that the conditions of living are “desirable for children to grow up with a normal family life in a permanent home and that such circumstance offers the best opportunity for children to develop and thrive.”

New York statute also says it prefers for the child to remain with their birth parent unless the birth parent cannot provide a “normal family home.”

Child custody is a complicated issue and there is really no generalized rule-of-thumb in determining custody in court. These are some examples of elements courts generally look for in determining the “best interests” of the child, but they may not apply to all situations.

Providing a healthy, safe and happy home for your child is the most important factor in custody and the court will likely rule in favor of what it thinks the best situation will be.