Child custody and “the best interests of the child”

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you are probably familiar with the idea that Montana courts make child custody decisions based on their determination of the best interests of the child. But what does “best interests of the child” mean.

Montana law requires courts to determine the best interests of the child in child custody cases by considering a number of factors. These include: the wishes of the parents; the wishes of the child;  the child’s relationships with parents, siblings and other people who may significantly affect the child’s development; any record of either parent committing or threatening domestic abuse against the child or the other parent; chemical dependency by either parent; the stability and continuity of care; the child’s developmental needs; and whether one parent has failed to pay for birthing costs or child support.

Courts may consider other factors as well, and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

It’s also important to note that courts start with the presumption that it is in the best interests of the child that they have “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents. If one parent wants to limit the child’s contact with the other parent, they must prove to the court that frequent and continuing contact is not in the child’s best interests.

For instance, if one parent knows the other parent is abusive, they must tell the court about the abuse, so that the court can factor this into its determination of what is best for the child. This can be a difficult thing for a parent to do, perhaps especially if they are afraid of the other parent themselves. An attorney with experience in family law can help concerned parents to understand their options and to protect their rights while protecting their children.