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What does “the best interest of the child” really mean?

Stepmom26745294's picture

This is so confusing to me! What's in the best interest of the child when both parents have different ideas about what that means. For instance: 

the sports which is the main battle around here: 

BM feels it's in the best interest of the children to play multiple sports at a time, that they play 6 days  a week at least and she asks then if they want to do then and to please her they say yes. 
DH feels it's too much and that one sport a season is a good amount so they have time for other activities with friends, family and to just have some time to relax. The kids have stated to him that they are tired and sore and they do not seem to really want to do so much. 
So who is right? Who is to say what is in the best interest of the children here? What would a judge say? 
Other examples are camps: 

BM feels they should have "enrichment" every week of the summer unless they are on a family vacation. DH feels they should have a couple summer camps but also time to DJ other things they enjoy like going on a hike or visiting the lake or having friends over for sleepovers. 

Mom will argue that the kids do have this and they do with HER but dad's time is completely filled with activities and he just wants to have the time to other things with his kids which will foster a relationship between them and dad and that's important too. The boys NEED their dad too. 

so again. What is actually in the best interest of the children. Mom feels she is right and DH is completely wrong and that a judge will tell him he's an awful father for not "supporting the kids in all their dreams" which he DOES. But he wants the kids to have balance too. 

momjeans's picture

In my personal experience, that verbiage has often been used as a means of exerting control over the non custodial parent. 

Also in my experience, a family court judge that isn’t overly jaded will inform both parties that it isn’t in their best interest to try and control what the other parent does, or doesn’t do, during their court ordered time. 

That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. The sooner the BM understands and abides by this, the better. And, yes, that includes the child(ren).

tog redux's picture

Yes, controlling parents love to throw around the "best interests of the child" phrase.  That has more to do with custody matters and not how many sports a kid plays.  

Your DH needs to not be listening to what BM says and decide if he wants to revisit this in court or not. 

lieutenant_dad's picture

Dad's time means he gets to decide what the kids do. BM can spend and waste all the money she wants on camps and sports, but she has ZERO say in whether Dad allows them to participate. Unless a CO says otherwise, and barring abuse, each parent gets to do as they believe is in the best interest of their children during their custody time.

SeeYouNever's picture

Best interest of the child always means "BM's way."

SD has activities 7 days a week, if you add up all her school and extra-curriculars it's more than a 40 hr work week. How is that good for the kid?  Sure she chose the activities but 2 hours more after school, after the after care... SD and BM eat out all the time and get home after 8 most nights. Plus you can't get really good at one activity if you are doing 4 different ones at a time! How do you even practice?

fedupinwa's picture

One thing that will likely be taken into account is what the standard was when the parents were together.  Were they in this many activities and is it reasonable.  A judge is going to be reluctant to tell dad what he has to do on his time.  This creates a logistic nightmare.  Do the police get called because Tommy didn't go to football practice?  What if Tommy skipped a class and dad is punishing, or has decided he is sick.  No, judges don't want the law to have to get envolved in day to day stuff that dad should have control of on his time.

Stepmom26745294's picture

Well the kids were a lot younger so that's her argument. They only did one a season because they were a lot younger and they are working hard to be in more competitive sports now. 

hereiam's picture

What does “the best interest of the child” really mean?

Coming from a high conflict person, it means, "I really feel the need to control this situation."

Rags's picture

A bullshit term for controlling others.  Courts use it, X spouses use it, educators use it, etc..........

Then... they often do crap like force kids into the presence of criminals, keep them in every possible activity in order to keep them from a parent, put them on meds, take them off of meds, etc, etc, etc......

Those actually interested in the best interests of children rarely use the term. They just do what is best and don't blather about what is in the best interests of kids.

IMHO of course.

ESMOD's picture

I know this is a source of great frustration for you.  However, while this is making your husband unavailable to you.. how does HE feel about this?

He is absolutely not required to attend games/practices etc.. on HER time.

He is not required to take them to games/practices on HIS time.  

Now, if he chooses to go with these nuclear option stances.. then it may be possible that BM will be able to claim he is not acting in the child's best interest because if they are so absent.. then they will not be allowed to participate and possibly be kicked off their teams.  A judge might find that he is being unreasonable to not support ONE activity of the child.. but will likely not agree he has to support  SIX (or activities that keep them busy 6-7 days a week).

Here is the thing.. it doesn't sound like your DH is inclined to buck this trend with her.  He doesn't want to be a bad guy with his kids... so he will continue to run himself ragged and be absent from your life because it's the path of least resistance in his mind.

If he WERE upset and wanted to put a stop to it HE COULD.  HE chooses NOT to do this.  So.. while BM is teeing up this situation, he is swinging at the ball himself.

What would be reasonable?  If he WANTED to stop the merry go round, he could insist that he will only help the kids participate in one sport/activity at a time.  That he will not make them available for games and practices and meetings for any other activities on HIS time.  He can tell her that he will not be sending the kids to camp on HIS time.. HE will figure out what adventures he wants to have with the kids himself.  Sorry.. BM .. My time.. MY call.

But.. again.. he doesn't want to stop.  

If he draws a line.. will BM be pissed.. probably.. will she tell the kids that daddy is a jerk? sure.. will they get mad at him? probably.. but if he puts an effort in to make the time he spends with them quality, family time and explains that he wants them to do activities like sports.. but that HE also wants to have time with them.. perhaps they will understand.


Stepmom26745294's picture

I agree. This is what he is planning on doing. The suggestion you made about one sport is his plan. He's not happy with the situation but yeah, she has no problem putting the kids in the middle so he's afraid he will ruin all the hard work he has put into the great relationship he has with the kids. I truly don't think this is about her. It's about his kids. Yes, he is terrified they will turn on him. He's frustrated and upset. He wants it to stop (otherwise I would have been long gone) and he has come sooo far! It was bad in the beginning. Like, really bad. He's afraid if he doesn't support them and go to every game then it will look bad for him in court. He's afraid that she will say "he does not have the time to go to games so how is he going to have more time with them?" we need to go back to court and the attorney told him to be at all the games, volunteer at school ect.. show that you can handle having them more. That's why he's doing it. Not because he wants to. He feels pressured right now. I get it. He makes time for me. I do not feel that I'm not a priority. But, we are just trying to manage being sane while we wait on court. 

ESMOD's picture

If he is playing that end-game then he "could" actually play this a bit more one sided.

He can make efforts to be at these activities when it is HER time.. but he doesn't have to take them on HIS time.. he can say.. I will support one activity/sport.. or one sport per child and one "shared activity" (that they can both be in to reduce scheduling issues).

This still may be more than you would prefer but it should help.  

It's a balancing act for sure.. showing that he has time for them.. yet setting boundaries.

He could also play the long game and do this for now.. but after court he could set some boundaries then?

strugglingSM's picture

To echo what others have said, it's a strong arm target for BMs to get their way - either to control time with dad or to gain sympathy with others. 

In my case, BM doesn't claim it's in the best interest of the children to participate in sports, she simply complains that DH is trying to force her to "do all the work" when it comes to sports that she signs the children up taking them to practice. Mind you, DH has SSs four days a month and never gets a say in what they do when they are with BM, so why would he ever be driving them to practice...only because it's unfair to BM. 

Now back to "best interests of the children", BM uses this to get what she wants, like the holiday schedule she wants or more money from DH. BIL also told DH that he's not concerned about the "best interest of his children" because DH avoids interacting wtih BM. Nevermind that every interaction with BM is usually a fight or some sort of manipulative, verbally abusive, gaslighting tirade from BM...of course, DH should expose his children to seeing him treated like that, because according to BIL, it's in "the best interest of the children" that DH is "more friendly" to BM. 

To sum up, it has nothing to do with the children and everything to do with the adults involved. 

Stepmom26745294's picture

I get that but what about in court? Do the judges care if dad doesn't go to games? She makes him out to be a complete monster to everyone that will listen if he misses a game. She will do that in court too and he's worried he will look bad and not get more time with the kids. 
he's not worried about her. He's worried about how a judge will look at him. 

advice.only2's picture

If this helps a judge granted Meth Mouth more time for an inconclusive drug test. He felt she should be rewarded for putting in an effort.

So your DH missing a game is not going to phase a judge. They are dealing with worse people like Meth Mouth.

ESMOD's picture

Now that I recall he is trying to go for "more" custody.. and his lawyer has advocated that he be present at the kid's things.. I think this is a different animal.

This is probably not the time to "piss off" the kids.  It's probably not a good time to have ultimatums that he won't support the kids with BM.  Because.. yeah.. as unreasonable as it sounds what they are doing.. the judge may feel that BM is being more open to catering to the kids and making sure they can do all the activities they are interested in pursuing.. while dad wants to limit things.

Don't do a thing without discussing this with his lawyer.  While being overscheduled may not be "in their best interest".. he might be able to broach that in court if he can prove some concrete suffering of their health or schoolwork.  

Panther1's picture

The 12 Best Interest Factors in Child Custody Law

Posted on: 02-16-2018

When courts determine child custody, they take several factors into consideration, all with the intent of serving the child’s best interest. As a parent, you need to understand these factors and how they could affect your bid for child custody. Here are the 12 best interest factors you should know about.

The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child. Does one parent stay home and raise the child while the other parent works or are both parents equally involved in child rearing? The court needs to know what kind of relationship parents and children share.

The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any. Parents are tasked with raising kids to be functional adults, and one parent might be more qualified in the eyes of the court.

The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care. The court needs to determine if each parent is capable of providing basic life necessities for children.

The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity. No court wants to disrupt a child’s life by tearing him/her from a stable and positive living situation.

The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes. Who else is living in the custodial home? The presence of grandparents, siblings, or other supportive residents (or alternately, negative influences) could make a difference.

The moral fitness of the parties involved. The court will take issues like past arrests and illegal or amoral activities into account when determining the moral fitness of both parents.

The mental and physical health of the parties involved. Issues with mental and physical health could impact a parent’s ability to provide a stable and supportive home for kids.

The home, school, and community record of the child. To an extent, children are a product of their environments. If kids are failing in school or getting in trouble in the community, their current custodial situation may not be suitable.

The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference. In Michigan, kids age 17 or older can decide which parent to live with, while kids as young as 9 could be asked to voice their preference.

The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents. Ideally, kids should continue to have relationships with both parents, and both parents should be willing to facilitate this.

Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child. Child safety is the highest concern of the court.

Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute


tog redux's picture

OP, he should talk to an attorney but their agreement clearly says that they have to agree on activities.  He doesn't agree. Please don't listen to advice to just play BM's game so the kids will not be mad at him, or the court won't look down on him.  A BM like this needs boundaries and his kids need to see that he has a backbone and can stand up to BM.

She will badmouth him regardless of what he does, so he can't keep just going along to get along out of fear that she will poison his kids against him. That's really the worst possible option.

He should pick a reasonable amount of activities - say 2 a season, provided those aren't every single night, and let BM know that is all he will go along with.  If he keeps giving in out of fear, none of this will get better.

tennisplyr's picture

From what I've seen, the "best interests of the child" standard in this context means almost nothing.  It appears most family law judges default to 50/50, and let each parent decide what to do or not to do on their time.  If one parent goes nuclear and shuts down all extracurricular activities on that parent's time, it is unlikely the judge will (i) change the existing custody schedule; or (ii) force the parent to take the kid to extracurricular activities. 

There may be other serious consequences to this approach, but probably not a legal change of custody.  Not your lawyer - this is a lay opinion.  

My friend dealt with the same issue so I'll speak from her perspective, which is that of a really awesome, devoted mom who wanted to support her kids and would do anything for them, and a jerk ex who went nuclear and forbid sports on "his" time.  The judge didn't make him take the kids to sports or change their custody schedule.  However, she (friend/mother of the kids) has made his life difficult in every way she can since he went nuclear, because in her view (and my view, for what it's worth), he's a total jerk who is selfishly interfering with his kid's right to a normal, stable childhood that includes a few sports that by their nature require the support of both parents due to a schedule that is 100% out of her control.  My view and that of our mutual friends is that this guy sucks.  He's lost the respect of his kids, his ex wife, their mutual friends, and the community.  Totally get that your DH's situation is not the same as the one I'm describing.  This guy just forbid every kind of sport on his time period, and treats my friend terribly.   

Stepmom26745294's picture

Yeah I get that. Not at all the way DH is. He is an excellent father who just wants the best for his kids. She's the one out of control. He wants the kids to do activities and he is there to support it all but when it takes up ALL of his parenting time so they can't even nurture their relationship, the kids are exhausted and sore, they have no time for friends of family, we can't do anything with the kids as a family, they have no responsibility here like cleaning up after themselves or taking care of their pets because there is no time because they are gone morning noon and night doing sports, he has to intervene and put a stop to the insanity. He thinks one sport per season and one other extracurricular (they both also take guitar/bass lessons) is plenty! They do not need 2-3 sports, plus music lessons, plus sports clinics, plus private lessons. This is what she wants! That's insane. On top of school? These kids are going to get seriously injured and/or sick. That is not okay! 
he was VERY generous and fair to her during the divorce even though she was the one who had an affair. He never retaliated. He never went after her boyfriend (who was the neighbor by the way and their kids were all friends and he acted like he was DH's friend all the while screwing his wife behind his back) but he never did anything because he knew it would hurt the kids. He's a good good man. That must have been very hard but he put all his sadness and pain aside for his children. 
Too bad she can't put her jealously and bitterness aside. It's not his fault her boyfriend won't marry her. He thinks of her as nothing but a casual lay and she's pissed that DH moved on and has a happy marriage. She's PISSED!!

ExcellenceToolkit's picture

BMs idea is best interest of the kids was DH kowtowing to her and complying with her every whim. We blew that to shreds. She no longer uses that term.

Goodluck's picture

Your dh has a lawyer right? What does your court order say about activities?