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Revisiting "the best interests of the child"

One of the most important legal concepts in California divorce law is embodied in the phrase "best interests of the child." Whenever a divorcing California couple has one or more minor children, issues such as child support, child custody and visitation will be resolved based upon the court's judgment about how a proposed solution will affect the best interests of the child. Any parent who is facing a potential divorce may wish to become familiar with the factors that determine a child's best interests.

The phrase can be difficult to define, but several factors are included in almost every judicial formulation of the test. The age and sex of the child are critically important. The court will also listen to the child's preferences if the child is old enough to capably express an opinion. The mental and physical health of each parent is also a crucial factor. If a child has special needs, the ability of each parent to attend to those needs will be included in the calculation. Religious and cultural considerations are also important.

The family structure also bears on the decision. Every child must have a continuing stable home environment. The support of and interaction with extended family members such as grandparents may also be important. If domestic violence has invaded the home, the court will most likely rule against the violent parent. The way each parent disciplines the child will also be considered. A final factor is evidence of parental drug, alcohol or child sex abuse in the home.

Most judges do not rely on a single factor. Instead, they are likely to take a more holistic approach after considering all of the factors that appear to be relevant. In the end, the child's ultimate safety and happiness are the paramount concerns that must be addressed.

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