Parents in New Jersey may wonder what exactly family court judges mean when they say that they make decisions in the best interests of the child. While most parents, even those engaged in a custody dispute, want the best outcomes for their children, they may not be aware of the factors that can contribute to a decision in a custody hearing. A family court judge is charged with putting the children's interests first rather than the feelings or concerns of the parents. However, the court system recognizes that deep connections with both parents are critical to a child's healthy development as long as no abuse or neglect is present.
There are a number of issues that a judge may evaluate in a child custody case. Evidence of the ability to parent may come into play, including showing that a parent can provide for a child physically and emotionally. This can include not only having the funds to provide resources for the child but also being responsible enough to keep up with medical and educational needs. Courts may take parents' physical and mental health into account when making these determinations. Safety can be another factor; while it can refer to cases of abuse or neglect, it can also relate to a child's living conditions.
The child's age can also contribute to a decision. While courts no longer systematically favor mothers in cases involving young children, they may still prefer a primary caregiver. In addition, older children will often have the opportunity to voice their opinions about custody decisions.
Parents preparing to go to court for a child custody issue can help their case by preparing evidence that speaks to these concerns. A family law attorney may work with parents to develop a strong case and present relevant evidence to protect their relationship with the children.