What Does “Best Interests of the Child” Mean in California?

What Does Best Interests of the Child Mean in California - Stockton Child Custody Lawyer

Child custody cases in California typically revolve around the “best interests of the child.”

But what does that mean, and how does a judge who doesn’t know your family determine what’s in your children’s best interests?

What Does “Best Interests of the Child” Mean in California Courts?

When parents can’t agree on child custody on their own or through mediation, the judge in the case will have to reach a solution that works for everyone involved—but the judge’s primary concern is the child.

In a typical custody agreement, both parents have some time with the child; they share custody. It’s usually the amount of time each parent gets that trips everyone up, and that’s often where the judge has to step in.

How Judges Determine Child Custody in Stockton and Other California Jurisdictions

Both parents have equal rights to custody under the law, and judges can’t give preference to one parent over the other simply based on his or her gender.

When a judge must determine custody, he or she has to remember two things:

  • The children’s health, safety, and welfare is the court’s primary concern
  • Kids benefit from frequent, continuing contact with both of their parents

As long as the judge bears those two things in mind, he or she can consider any factor relevant to parenting.

Children’s Health and Safety in Custody Decisions

When a judge makes a decision on child custody, he or she has to consider factors that may affect the child’s health and safety. There are legal issues in some cases, such as when one parent has committed first-degree murder of the child’s other parent, or has been convicted of some types of physical or sexual child abuse (in those cases, judges are prohibited from granting custody or unsupervised visitation to that parent).

When Judges Can Limit Custody and Visitation

Judges can also limit custody and visitation when one parent has engaged in child abuse (or partner abuse), even if that abuse hasn’t resulted in a court conviction, provided that an independent and reliable source verifies that it has happened. Drug use and alcohol abuse are other factors that may relate to children’s health and safety, so judges can limit custody and visitation if they’re present, as well.

Does the Child’s Preference Matter in Custody Cases?

The law requires courts to consider a child’s preference when the child is mature enough to make an intelligent choice. There’s no specific age listed in the law, but typically, courts are more willing to listen to a child’s preferences when he or she is older and more mature. (A six-year-old’s preference may not carry as much weight as a 16-year-old’s preference will.)

Probability of Parental Alienation and Interference With Healthy Relationships

A judge must consider which parent is more likely to encourage a healthy relationship with the child’s other parent. Because judges have to remember that kids benefit from good relationships with both parents, this is a valid concern—and if there’s a probability of some form of parental alienation or interference with the other parent’s relationship with the child (or if it’s already happened), the court may restrict custody or visitation.

Which Parent Can Provide Stability and Continuity?

Judges prefer to keep kids’ lives as stable as possible, and that includes evaluating established patterns of care and the emotional bonds children share with their primary caretakers. Typically, judges keep siblings together unless there are extraordinary circumstances that make it necessary to separate them, as well.

Do You Need to Talk to a Stockton Child Custody Attorney?

If you’re contemplating divorce or you need help fighting for custody of your children, it may be a good idea to get in touch with an experienced child custody lawyer in Stockton. We can also answer your questions about child support, spousal support (alimony), and the divorce process in general.

Call us at 209-910-9865 or get in touch with us online for a divorce case evaluation. We’ll talk about your situation and start developing a strategy that gets you—and your kids—the best possible outcome.