When faced with determining parenting plans (aka custody arrangements) for preschool aged children, most courts will use the “best interest of the child standard.” This standard is most often determined based on the environment which will best provide healthy opportunities for the child’s physical, psychological, and emotional development. In most states, there are several determining factors laid out with room for individual interpretation by judges.
According to leading human development specialists and child psychologists, the four most important factors for determining this best interest standard are:
(1) parent-child attachment,
(2) sleeping arrangements,
(3) maintaining relationships, and
(4) parental cooperation.
Best Interest Factor #1: Parent-Child Attachment.
Key factors for consideration are:
- The relationship between the child and the caregivers
- The critical components to child development – emotional availability, commitment, protection, organized structure, responsiveness to needs, teaching, appropriate play, and discipline
- Provision of a safe and responsive emotional environment (i.e. caregiver helps to comfort children in responses to emotionally charged situations)
- The bond between the child and the caregiver
- Ability of the caregiver to properly act as a primary caregiver
Best Interest Factor #2 – Sleeping Arrangements
This factor requires a balance between the sleeping arrangements between the caregiver and the child with the development of the child as an independent person. Many experts agree that:
- Allowing a child to sleep in a parent’s bed on a short-term basis, for emotional comfort, is not necessarily harmful
- Permanent changes to a child’s sleeping arrangement, however, may foster developmental regression
- Sleeping alone is a developmental achievement for children that fosters a sense of independence, autonomy, and competence
- Regular overnight visits have been associated with better adjustment throughout divorce by toddlers and young children (Pruett, Insabella & Gustafson, 2005)
- Parents involved pre-divorce who are denied overnight access post-divorce are prevented from establishing a stronger and deeper relationship with their children
Best Interest Factor #3 – Maintaining Relationships
This factor is a complicated determinant because it weights the potential social and development concerns for the child throughout the divorce process.
- Children have a higher risk of losing significant relationships with friends, family members, and the non-primary parent after the divorce
- Restricted visitation times, geographical constraints after moving, new parental relationships, and remarriage contribute to a diminished relationship between children and their non-primary parent
Best Interset Factor #4 – Parental Cooperation
- Parents need to support the other’s parental role and not undermine the former spouse’s authority with the children
- Parents must not expose the children to parental fighting or embroil them in conflicts
- Parents must not make children choose between the mother or father, but should encourage them to be close with both parents
- Parents should encourage others to take a neutral stance regarding the divorce, including grandparents, teachers, and other significant adults
- Children need to be able to receive support from people with neutral standpoints in order to not take sides or place blame on an individual parent
- It is necessary to weigh the importance of keeping both parents involved in the child’s life against the detrimental effects of exposing children to parental conflict
Preschool aged children are in one of the most significant developmental periods of their lives. They are learning how to be independent, while also developing relationships with adults, peers, social groups, and family members. It is crucial to think of the most important, if not all, of the determining factors when considering how these children’s parenting plans should be arranged. Without proper consideration for the child(ren)’s needs, they may fail to reach certain developmental milestones, or develop unhealthy relationships with their parents and peers . . . and you do not get a do-over with your kids.
By Lyndsea Seril, Human Development Specialist and
Steven Seril, Mediation, Marketing & Research Assistant