How courts decide the best interest of a child in custody cases

Whether a divorce is contentious or amicable, one phrase will be repeatedly used to determine child custody matters in California: the best interests of the child.

In order to determine what is in the best interests of the child, California courts look at a number of factors, including the following:

  • Which parent provided the most care for the child - including preparing meals, bathing and dressing the child, and handling medical and educational issues
  • Whether or not there were issues of abuse in the marriage and whether a parent has substance abuse problems
  • The age of the child
  • The mental and physical health of the parents
  • The opportunities that are available to the child with each parent, such as access education and religious services
  • Which parent is better able to share custody with the other parent
  • Whether a parent has a history of criminal activity
  • Which parent can provide the strongest support system with extended family members and friends

In addition, sometimes the courts will take into consideration the wishes of the child to decide which parent should receive custody. Generally, courts will allow a child to have a say in custody matters when the child is at least 14 years of age, and exhibits the maturity needed to have substantive input in the decision.

When parents are deemed unfit

In some cases, when a court finds a custodial parent unfit because he or she is not providing a safe environment for that child, deciding what is in the best interests of the child can become more complicated. In these cases, the court will attempt to place the child with the other parent or a relative. If that is not possible, the court will try to place the child in a family-like environment that is close to what the child is accustomed to.

Courts can take children from their parents as a temporary measure with the intention of reunifying the parents with their child at a future date. In some cases, however, permanent placement has to be explored in order to serve the best interest of the child.

Dealing with custody issues

When a couple is divorcing, they must decide on who is going to have physical custody of the child, as well as legal custody. Physical custody refers to which parent the child will live with or the timeshare arrangement between the parents, while legal custody refers to whether one parent or both parents are allowed to make important decisions about the child's welfare.

If you are dealing with custody matters, you should not face these important matters on your own. Contact an experienced attorney in order to get the help that you need to ensure that your child's best interests are served.