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Custody disputes and your child's best interests

Dear Clients and Friends,

When a Family Law Judicial Officer in California evaluates a custody case, he must consider the best interests of the children when deciding how parents will share time with the children. Both parents begin with equal rights to custody. A judge is not permitted to give a preference to either parent based upon the parent’s sex - such as “Mom is better because the child is young.”

In determining a child’s best interests, California law specifies two guiding policies:

1. The health, safety, and welfare of children must be a court’s primary concern.

2. Children benefit from frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

Within the parameters of these two policies, a judge may consider any factor relevant to parenting, taking into account all the circumstances of each individual case.

Although the best-interests standard can be hard to define in some situations, the key factors in most custody disputes are the following:

• Wishes of the child (if old enough to capably express a reasonable preference)

• Mental and physical health of the parents

• A child's special needs and how each parent cares for those needs

• Religion and cultural considerations

• Need for continuation of a stable home environment

• Other children whose custody is relevant to this child's custody arrangement

• Support and opportunity for interaction with members of extended family of either parent, such as grandparents;

• Patterns of domestic violence in the home

• Parental use of excessive discipline or emotional abuse

• Evidence of parental drug, alcohol or child abuse.

“Best interests" determinations are made by considering a number of factors related to the child's circumstances, a parent’s capacity to parent and the child's ultimate safety and happiness as the paramount concern.

What is in the best interests of your child is ultimately for the court to determine. The best way express your concerns about your child's well-being, and to work within the constraints of the court system, is to work with an attorney. We invite you to call us for a free phone evaluation of your matter to see if we can be of help.



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