If you talk with a family law attorney for very long about any situation involving a kid, there's a good chance you'll hear the phrase "the best interests of the child" used. While it might feel intuitive to you, the concept actually has a strong legal definition. It's important when dealing with such matters to understand just what it is a family law attorney is talking about when they mention the best interests of the child.
First, Do No Harm
Every divorce attorney who has ever practiced law has at some point encountered either a client or an opposing party who wanted revenge. Some folks are open about it, but it's more common for people to covertly exact their revenge. Unsurprisingly, these folks often use a kid as a prop to strike at their ex. Actions can range from foot-dragging on picking a child up for visitation to openly seeking a harsh custody agreement to show the other person who's boss.
It can be argued that this sort of conduct is one of the main reasons the court places a premium on the best interests of children when dealing with family law issues. You should examine your conduct to confirm that you are getting your priorities straight. Likewise, don't go hunting for problems with an ex. If there is a serious issue, such as a physical threat, document your concerns and raise those with your divorce attorney. They can be presented during family conferences or in court as necessary.
A significant element of legal custody is the role each parent plays in making important life choices for a child. Notably, legal custody is a separate thing from physical custody. Two parents may have joint legal custody, but a true 50-50 split of physical custody is rare because of work schedule, school requirements, and the simple problem of making sure a kid has a consistent place to sleep.
What legal custody entails are questions of the child's upbringing. For example, the court has a responsibility to ensure a child is raised within the family's culture. This includes making decisions about the kid's spiritual life, such as if and where they'll attend services. Picking a school and paying for it also figures in, and that duty may continue into a child's college years.
As the kid gets older, they will also have a bigger say. This may include deciding where they want to live.