Child Custody in Idaho: The Best Interests of the Child

Learn about the "best interests" standard and how it applies to child custody cases in Idaho.

Custody disputes in Idaho are governed by the Idaho Domestic Relations Law.  If parents can’t agree on how to share custody and parenting time, a judge will make a decision awarding legal and physical custody to one parent or will order the parents to share joint legal and physical custody.  When making these custody determinations, the court must determine what is in the best interest of the child, a broad standard that leaves the court with a great deal of discretion. However, Idaho law does enumerate a number of factors for the court to consider in child custody cases, including:

  • the parents’ desires for custody of their child
  • the child’s wishes as to which parent should be their custodian
  • the relationship between the child and each parent
  • the child’s relationship with other siblings who are in the custody of either parent,
  • the circumstances of all of the parties involved, including each parent’s housing and employment situation and each parent’s ability to meet the child’s mental, physical, and daily needs,
  • each parent’s relative fitness to be a parent,
  • the child’s involvement in school and in the community, and the circumstances surrounding the child’s home life, and
  • the need for stability in the child’s life. 

Idaho courts will also consider any history of domestic violence by either parent, whether or not that violence was perpetrated in the presence of the child.  A history of domestic violence does not preclude a parent from obtaining custody of the child, but it does create a rebuttable presumption that it is not in the best interest of the child to award legal or physical custody to that parent. A rebuttable presumption means the court starts with that presumption, but the parent can rebut it by showing evidence that custody would actually be in the child’s interests.

Judges can consider any other factors that may affect the health, safety, or well-being of the child, and are not constrained to considering only the factors listed above. 

Parents with disabilities are not precluded from obtaining joint or sole custody of their children; where appropriate, courts may ask disabled parents to show how they can use adaptive equipment to adequately care for their children. 

Visitation decisions are guided by the same best-interest factors.  

Where a child resides with a grandparent, Idaho courts place that grandparent on equal footing with the parents in making custody decisions. In other words, the grandparent will be treated like a parent and the factors listed above will be used to determine whether it is in the child’s best interest to continue living with the grandparent.

Idaho law does allow for custody determinations to be modified if the court finds that the modification would be in the best interest of the child.  However, Idaho law specifically provides that a custody or visitation determination cannot be modified simply because a member of the Idaho National Guard has been called to active duty or a military reservist has been activated (even though other arrangements may have to be made for the duration of the military parent’s deployment).  Idaho courts have ruled that this situation is not a material change in circumstances that affects the best interest of the child.

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