One of the first expressions that soon-to-be divorced parents will hear is "best interest of the child." The biggest question they may have is "What does that really mean?" Although the best interest of a child may seem pretty subjective, there are certain general ideas that judges consider when making a determination as to what is in the best interest of any child involved in a divorce.
While a judge may listen to the wishes of each parent, their opinions are by no means the final decider. Other things that a judge may take into consideration include the child's age, his or her relationship with each parent, and, if the child is old enough to express him or herself, the child's wishes.
On top of that, a judge may look at things like each parent's living accommodations and how well each parent may be able to provide a stable environment. Also, a judge will likely look at what kind of arrangement has been put in place up until that point and whether there is any reason to change it. They will want to know if one of the parents has been providing the majority of the child's care.
Finally, it will be important for the judge to evaluate the physical and mental health of each parent, as well as whether each parent shows an interest in helping their child pursue an ongoing relationship with the other parent.
While these are general guidelines that a judge may consider, there may be varying considerations from state to state.
Source: About.com, "Factors Used to Determine the Custody of Children," Jennifer Wolf, accessed Oct. 17, 2014