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What “Best Interest of the Child” Means

Courts make child custody decisions in a variety of circumstances. Child custody issues are most often addressed in a divorce, but they also arise when a parent wishes to relocate the family or when a parent seeks to change an existing parenting time agreement.

When California courts make child custody decisions, they weigh several factors to determine the custody arrangement that is in the "best interest of the child." This standard requires an evaluation of the unique circumstances of the child as well as the circumstances and child-rearing capabilities of the child's potential caregivers. The ultimate goal is to ensure the child's safety and well-being.

Under California Family Code Section 3011, courts are instructed to consider the factors listed in the statute and any other factors they find relevant to an evaluation of the best interest of the child. To determine what child custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child, California courts consider the following factors:

  • The health, safety and welfare of the child
  • Any history of abuse by a parent, relative, any other person who has a caretaking relationship with the child or a parent's spouse, cohabitant or person with whom the parent has a dating relationship
  • The nature and amount of contact with both parents
  • The habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances or alcohol by either parent

In addition, California child custody law instructs courts to consider the child's wishes if the child is of a sufficient age and maturity level to express a reasonable preference. Courts also recognize the importance of sibling relationships and other close family bonds.

If you are seeking custody of a child or wish to modify an existing child custody agreement, contact a family law or child custody lawyer in your area. An attorney experienced in handling child custody disputes can help you present compelling facts and arguments to the judge who will make your child's custody decision.

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