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Understanding the "best interests of the child"

For divorcing couples with minor children, the "best interests of the child" is perhaps the most dominant concept in the entire divorce. California law makes child custody, child visitation and child support dependent upon how the best interests of the child will be affected by decisions resolving these issues. A single blog post is inadequate to fully analyze the tests used by California courts, but an overview may be helpful to those considering a divorce.

In essence, the best interests of the child means that all custody, support and visitation decisions are made to accomplish the ultimate goals of fostering and encouraging the child's happiness, physical and emotional security and emotional development.

Some specific factors are identified in the statutes:

  • Mental and physical health of the parents
  • A child's special needs, if any
  • Religious and cultural considerations
  • A stable home environment
  • Needs of other children whose custody and welfare are relevant to a specific child
  • Adjustment to school and community
  • Age and sex of child

These factors apply to almost every divorce, but there are some factors that apply to only a few:

  • The presence of domestic violence in the home
  • Excessive parental discipline or emotional abuse
  • Parental drug, alcohol or child/sex abuse

No single factor will control the judge's decision. Instead, the court will consider those factors that it deems most relevant to the case at hand. If the best interests of the child are disputed by the divorcing parents, each of them will be required to offer evidence to support their position.

If a person contemplating a divorce is concerned about issues of child custody, visitation and support, the advice of a knowledgeable family law attorney may offer the best way to negotiate these difficult issues. An experienced lawyer can provide advice on how the best interests of the child will be used by the court to resolve issues of support, visitation and custody.

Source: FindLaw, "Primary Child Custody Factors in California," accessed on Jan. 15, 2018

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