Quite often, I write about parental alienation and family court bias. Both, of these things do and will continue to occur in its present form unless, something dramatic changes. When we set foot into a family court environment to decide parental responsibilities, we have certain expectations that the term “best interests” of our child will be applied in the fullest measure possible.
Within the family court realm, there are essentially three people who will ultimately have a hand in the decision making process of where our child will live. First, you have an attorney for Mom, an attorney for Dad and finally, the judge who will decide the merits of the case. Obviously, the attorney’s job is to advance their client’s position and most times isn’t worried so much about the best interest standard.
This leaves the family court judge. These judges handle a great many cases that range from criminal to civil to family and anything else in between. As such, it is unreasonable to think that they are experts in all aspects of the law pertaining to the various disciplines. Also, they have limited knowledge of the family outside of what is presented to them in the courtroom. As a result, this can cause a judge to issue an order that may or may not be in the child’s best interest.
When applied, the term “best interest” should meet the legal definition. If, it does not then it is simply a useless phrase that is coined by the administrators of these proceedings to justify their rulings. Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s take a look at this term and what it implies. Though, each state may vary a bit in its definition, they all mention the main points.
Though, there are too many aspects to list in this article however, I will attempt to highlight some of the more obvious and relevant ones used in determining what constitutes the best interests standard. To see a complete list for your individual state, you can do a search of the term. The following are as listed, not necessarily in order.
*The age of the child;
*The relationship of the child with the child’s parents and any other persons who may significantly affect the child’s welfare.
*The preference of the child, if old enough to express a meaningful preference.
*The stability of any proposed living arrangements for the child.
*The motivation of the parties involved and their capacities to give the child love, affection and guidance. *The capacity of each parent to allow and encourage frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent, including physical access.
*Methods for assisting parental cooperation and resolving disputes and each parent’s willingness to use those methods.
*The existence of domestic abuse between the parents, in the past or currently, and how that abuse affects the child.
*The existence of a parent’s conviction for a sex offense or a sexually violent offense.
*Whether allocation of some or all parental rights and responsibilities would best support the child’s safety and well-being.
As you can see, there are many different aspects that judges must take into account when deciding the issue of parental responsibilities. None of these should ever be taken for granted lest, the child suffer due to the absence of one of these considerations. However, not all of the above mentioned are equally applied and sometimes, are ignored.
Should one of the parents display an unwillingness to follow these guidelines of best interests, then allocation should be given to the parent who is a willing participant. However, this does not always happen. There are times when the judge in these cases have demonstrated a certain level of hostility and bias towards one of the parents, attorneys or both, Further, their lack of understanding family law to the fullest, ignorance of motivating factors such as, parental alienation is a fairly common occurrence.
It is for these reasons that judges should be required to outline the guidelines, according to their respective state and go through them line by line explaining why each one is in compliance with their orders. I believe, that should a family court judge be required to do this, the very essence of transparency would eliminate any erroneous ruling and the best interest standards would be fully administered and served.
Finally, family court judges must be required to take educational classes to learn about a child’s best interest, as it applies to governing law. Lastly, family law cases must be separate from criminal and civil courts to insure that the judges are not only qualified but, also specialized in these matters. In allowing these things to take place, we may start to see some semblance of “best interest” standard being applied.
By David Shubert
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