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What is the “best interests” standard in California child custody?

On Behalf of | Feb 12, 2024 | Family Law |

Many children have a hard time dealing with parental divorce. This is especially true when parents fight over custody.

In California, courts make custody and visitation decisions based on the “best interests” of the child. This legal standard puts the child’s welfare first so that custody arrangements support their physical, emotional and developmental needs.

What children need

Parental divorce can negatively affect children, so courts try to focus on what children need:

Emotionally, children may experience stress, anxiety and confusion. They need reassurance, stability and open communication from both parents.

Physically, they require a safe and nurturing environment, access to healthcare and adequate nutrition.

Developmentally, children need consistent routines, positive role models and opportunities for growth and learning.

Divorce can disrupt these needs, so parents must prioritize their child’s well-being. You should maintain stability and provide unconditional love and support to help them navigate this challenging time.

Factors considered

When determining the best interests of the child, California family courts consider various factors. These include the child’s age, health, emotional ties with each parent and their adjustment to home, school and community environments.

Parenting abilities

The court evaluates each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs, including their capacity to provide a stable and nurturing environment, promote the child’s emotional and psychological well-being, and foster a healthy parent-child relationship.

History of care

The child’s relationship with each parent, including their involvement in the child’s upbringing and caregiving responsibilities, plays a part in custody decisions. The court looks into each parent’s history of care and willingness to support the child’s ongoing needs.

Domestic violence and substance abuse

Courts carefully assess cases involving allegations of domestic violence or substance abuse. The court considers any history of abuse, neglect or substance dependency that may impact the child’s safety or ability to thrive in the care of a parent.

Child’s wishes

The court may consider the child’s preferences regarding custody arrangements, taking into account the child’s age, maturity level and ability to express their wishes in a meaningful manner.

Co-parenting and communication

The court encourages parents to communicate and cooperate about the child’s upbringing. Parents who are willing to collaborate and promote the child’s relationship with the other parent are more likely to receive favorable custody arrangements.

Parental motivation

Parents seeking custody for selfish reasons, such as revenge or control, can negatively impact custody cases. Courts prioritize the child’s best interests over parental desires, and selfish motivations may raise concerns about the parent’s ability to prioritize the child’s welfare and promote a healthy parent-child relationship.

What courts avoid

Courts do not want children to experience abuse, harm or neglect. They will make custody decisions accordingly.