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How California determines the “best interests of the child”

When California courts need to make important decisions regarding child custody or visitation, they will almost always consider “the best interests of the child” before making any final determinations. While courts examine several factors to determine the best interests of a child, there are certain areas you can assume they will review before deciding what type of arrangement would ultimately serve your child best.

Just what sorts of areas can you expect California’s court system to look at when assessing your child’s best interests?

Factors relating to a child’s best interests

While you should expect some variation from one child custody or visitation case to the next, you can reasonably assume that a court will consider, first and foremost, the overall health, safety and well-being of the child before making any determinations. The court may, for example, consider whether either parent (or anyone else seeking custody or visitation) has any history of being abusive toward the child.

Additional considerations

The court will also likely take into account whether anyone seeking custody has a history of alcohol or drug abuse, and this may include contacting law enforcement agencies, courts, probation officers or others with knowledge in these areas. Courts typically consider the type of relationship anyone seeking custody of a child had with that child before legal proceedings began before making any child custody or visitation determinations.

Additional areas that may undergo review when determining the best interests of a child include the ability of anyone seeking custody to financially support the child and provide a stable home life. The court may also consider a child’s own wishes if the child is old enough to express them.

When possible and appropriate, California courts often favor joint-custody arrangements, because they allow both parents to maintain an active presence in a child’s life. Several studies have also shown that joint-custody arrangements can be good for the overall development and well-being of a child of divorce.

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