The “child’s best interest standard” refers to the principle a judge will apply to child custody arrangements and visitation schedules. The best interests of the child, not the parents, will govern custody and visitation rights. This places greater priority on ensuring the child’s health, safety, welfare, adjustment, and development, amongst others.
In determining a child’s best interests in California, the following primary considerations are taken into account:
- The child’s health, safety, and welfare
- The relationship history of the child and their parents
The court will want to hear all factors that are relevant to the child’s future health, safety, and welfare. This will mean needing to see financial information, hear from witnesses, and any police reports.
Though the primary considerations are paramount, other considerations certainly factor into a custody decision, and may include:
- Mental and Physical Health of the Parents: parents need to be of sound mind and able body to care for children.
- Evidence of Abuse or Domestic Violence: if there is any evidence or history of abuse by a parent/person seeking custody or anyone who is related to the parent/person seeking custody, including:
- Current spouse;
- Cohabitant (including roommates); and
- Person they are dating.
- Drug or Alcohol Abuse: the court will consider history of substance abuse, and any government agency involvement, e.g., social services, law enforcement.
- The child’s wishes if they are at a mature age to make them known
However, each case is different from the next, and courts will carefully weigh factors involving all parties before making a custody ruling. The circumstances of each case will never be identical enough to result in the same outcome, so it’s important to be prepared for any outcome.
The child’s best interest takes precedent, unless something life-changing takes place. For instance, if one parent was convicted of a drug crime, the court will still consider the child’s best interest, but will include other factors in determining the best home for the child. Other situations may include a job loss, an emergency, or death of a family member.
Child custody cases can be highly emotional and complex. It is highly recommended to speak with a child custody attorney in California who is well-versed in California custody and visitation laws, and can represent your best interests in court.