In most legal disputes involving children, the Texas Family Code clearly states that “the best interest of the child shall always be the primary consideration of the court in determining issues of conservatorship and possession of and access to the child. Texas Family Code § 153.002.
But what is the legal definition of “the best interest of the child” and what does that phrase actually mean?
BACKGROUND OF THE HOLLEY CASE
The most cited case regarding best interest standard is the Texas Supreme Court’s 1976 decision Holley v. Adams. In that case, the father of the child at issue filed suit for termination of the mother’s parental rights claiming that the mother had failed to support the child, among other issues. The mother argued that her relationship with the child was a loving one and that termination of her parental rights would not be in the best interest of the child. The trial court terminated the mother’s rights, the appellate court ultimately affirmed the trial court’s ruling, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas.
Although the Holley v. Adams case involved termination of parental rights, the Supreme Court of Texas provided a basic framework for the analysis of factors to be considered by a trial court in determining the best interest of a child. These factors include (but are not limited to):
- the desires of the child
- the emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future
- the emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future
- the parenting abilities of the individuals seeking custody
- the programs available to assist those individuals to promote the best interest of the child
- the plans for the child by these individuals or by the agency seeking custody
- the stability of the home or proposed placement
- the acts or omissions of the parent which may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is not a proper one
- any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent
USING THE HOLLEY FACTORS TO PREPARE FOR TRIAL
Trial courts are given wide latitude in determining what is in the best interest of the child. However, being aware of the Holley factors may be helpful in preparing for a trial regarding conservatorship or possession and access (visitation) with a child. Evidence regarding which parent has provided for the child’s needs, fed and clothed the child, taken the child to the doctor on a regular basis, assisted with homework, and the parent’s future plans for the child is helpful to a trial court in making its determination of what is in the best interest of the child.