Child Custody: What Exactly Are the Child’s Best Interests?

When parents divorce, the judge must take into account the child’s best interests when determining custody arrangements. It’s completely at the judge’s discretion to weigh the facts of the case and determine what will be best for the child. However, the judge must follow certain guidelines. Here’s more about what constitutes “the child’s best interests” and how child custody is determined in California.

“The Child’s Best Interests”

Although this phrase may sound very vague, it actually means something quite specific to judges. In California, the child’s best interests include:

  1. the health, safety, and welfare of the child; and
  2. the idea that the child will benefit from having a continued relationship with both parents.

When judges decide on a child custody arrangement, they consider these two items primarily. Then, they look at other factors to guide them to make their ruling.

Health, Safety, and Welfare of the Child

When the judge is assessing the health, safety, and welfare of the child, he or she is trying to keep the child from unsafe situations. Some situations where a judge might decide a parent is unsafe are if a parent has been accused of:

  • drug or alcohol abuse,
  • physical or sexual abuse (of an adult or child),
  • child endangerment, or
  • murder or another dangerous act

Even if you have been accused of any of these above listed activities, it is still possible for you to have a relationship with your child. Depending on what you have been accused of, you might be able to plead your case by writing a declaration to the judge explaining your situation.

Continued Relationship with Both Parents

One of the judge’s main goals in determining child custody is for the child to have a continued relationship with both parents. This means that when the judge is deciding custody, a preference might be given toward a parent who has a better attitude. The judge wants to find someone who will continue to encourage the child to spend time with the other parent. Similarly, the judge wants to reward parents who show a willingness to positively co-parent.

Other Factors

There are other factors that do end up influencing the judge’s final custody decision. For example, if you have an older, mature child, the judge might ask your child if he or she has a preference for living with one parent over the other. Also, the judge will do the best job to minimize the changes in your child’s life from your divorce. This can mean preference for the parent who is the primary caregiver.

Let Fenchel Family Law Help

If you are contemplating a divorce or need help modifying your child custody arrangement, Fenchel Family Law can assist you. We know that your child is important to you, and we’re committed to helping you get the custody arrangement you deserve. Give us a call today at (415) 805-9069 or contact us online.