Understanding ‘best interests of the child’

On Behalf of | Jul 28, 2021 | Family Law |

Parents across Canada end their relationships with each other for any number of reasons. Sometimes they fall out of love; other times, they might not have been in love to begin with.

Whatever reason parents have for ending their relationship, they remain parents to the children they share. Thus, they will need to determine what will happen regarding custody and access, which entails assessing what is in the best interests of a child.

Parental versus legal definition

There is likely no one who knows a child better than their parents. However, a parent’s opinion on what is best for a child does not always align with the court’s opinion regarding where a child will live and who can make decisions for that child.

In the legal sense, the best interests of a child refer to conditions that support a child’s physical, psychological and emotional health. While there is no single picture of what this might look like, courts generally favour situations in which a child:

  • Is safe
  • Has a support system
  • Receives appropriate medical care
  • Can learn about their cultural background
  • Is not being manipulated by a caregiver
  • Has adequate supervision
  • Can spend time with nurturing, loving parents
  • Receives financial support that covers basic care needs

As readers might note, these components do not reflect factors like which parent is nicer, which one gives more gifts or is less firm with discipline. This is because assessing conditions that foster a child’s well-being is not about pitting parents against each other; it is about protecting the welfare of a child.

Best interests of a child, not a parent

In some cases, custody and access arrangements may not be what parents want. They may require that parents share time with a child as equally as possible or give the right to make decisions for a child to one parent instead of two.

These scenarios may not be what parents want because it can mean less time with their children or more interactions with each other. 

However, it is crucial that custody and access decisions reflect a child’s needs, not the parents’ needs. And parents can determine this themselves amicably or through the courts.