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The winning essays shall be selected by a committee of child custody attorneys.
While available social science data creates a general framework about what parenting arrangements would be good for children after separation and divorce (e.g., they need “stability of relationships” in a time of uncertainty and stress), the data cannot always create an accurate prediction/decision for every particular child.
Further, the hostility, expense, trauma, and uncertainty for parents and children required for the presentation of evidence to the court to make a custody determination can make everything worse.
However, the determination that the court is being asked to make is different than other decisions that a court typically makes.
Most judgments require the court to reconstruct past events through the evidence presented and allocate civil or criminal responsibility — who ran the red light causing the accident and was that negligence?
The best-interests standard keeps everyone’s focus on the duty to protect the weakest, most vulnerable actor in the separation or divorce process.
Generally children do not have a voice when their parents separate or divorce yet they are the ones most put at risk by the adult decision foisted on them.In Virginia, the court takes the following factors into consideration when determining the best interests of the child for custody and visitation: This is typical of many state statutes that list the factors that go into a best interests determination.The factors seem sensible and thoughtful, but are so general that it is difficult for parents (and indeed other judges) to predict how they will be applied to a particular family.The court may order an expensive and intrusive mental health report to help it make a decision. However, the “best interests” test remains the overarching standard for making child custody determinations.It is fundamentally a moral statement; recognizing our responsibility to try to “do right” by children through an orderly and rational process when parents separate or divorce.The parents air accusations and counter accusations about family life.Each will have to pay a lawyer at a time when family finances are under great stress already because of the need to support two households.In short, a judicial “best interests” custody determination is, in effect, an educated prediction about how parents and children will evolve, not simply a reconstruction and legal interpretation of past events.Unfortunately, there is scant evidence that anyone — including judges and psychologists — is very good at making such a prediction of the future.For example, assume that the court has before it two reasonably fit, loving parents.Both have been involved in parenting the child, albeit with different divisions of time and labor as the now 12-year-old child grew.