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Determining a child’s best interests in California

On Behalf of | Sep 19, 2023 | Divorce, Family Law |

When California courts make decisions about child custody and visitation, their number one priority is the child’s best interests. California law governs the determination of what comprises a child’s best interests.

Although judges have room for using their judgment, the most important and leading factors in custody-related decisions are made using the California Family Code.

In making custody-related decisions, the court typically considers:

The health and safety of the child

The court will look at any history of abuse, neglect or domestic violence in the family. Protecting the child from harm and ensuring their safety are the court’s primary concerns.

The physical and emotional well-being of the child

The court assesses the well-being of the child by looking at their health, education and overall development, both physically and emotionally.

The child’s relationship with their parents

The court looks at the child’s relationship with both parents and whether each parent has the ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment for the child. In addition, the court considers each parent’s willingness to facilitate a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.

The child’s preference, if appropriate.

If the child is considered mature enough to express genuine desires and preferences regarding custody arrangements, the court considers the child’s preferences. However, it is important to note that this is only one factor of many.

The continuity and stability of the custody arrangement

The court also looks at which arrangement is most likely to provide the child with continuity and stability in terms of the home environment, attending school, the child’s relationships with other children and adults in the community, relationships with siblings, cousins and other significant relationships in the child’s life.

The parents’ history

The court will examine each parent’s history of caregiving responsibilities and their level of involvement in the child’s development since birth.

Potential substance abuse or mental health issues

The court will look for whether either parent has had any substance abuse issues or mental health concerns that could impact raising the child according to their best interests.

If one parent, for example, has health issues that could potentially impact their ability to care for the child, the court will consider that when making their final determination.

The factors outlined by law are not exhaustive, which means that the judge can certainly make decisions about a child’s custody, considering other factors that the law does not necessarily mention. However, these factors serve as general guidelines for determining the child’s best interests in California custody cases.

Additionally, the court may consider any other relevant facts and issues presented during court proceedings that pertain specifically to the case at hand.