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Child Custody in California: Best Interests of the Child Standard

Gone are the days when the family courts automatically assumed the mother should get the children in a divorce. In the past 15 years, family courts across the country have made sweeping changes to their child custody laws and California is almost a pioneer in this department.

Why the dramatic shift? Much of it has to do with the number of women in the workforce. These days, we have a lot more mothers working full time and providing for their families than ever before. Likewise, we have more stay-at-home fathers who are caring for their children while their successful wives work and pay all of the family’s bills. In light of these cultural changes, it only makes sense to give equal consideration to mothers and fathers when there is a child custody dispute.

When Mom & Dad Can’t Agree

Arguably, one of the hardest aspects of divorce is child custody. Some couples are amicable and don’t have any issues reaching a reasonable child custody arrangement, meanwhile, others struggle and it becomes a hotly contested topic.

Ideally, a divorcing couple will work out a fair and practical child custody arrangement, which will need final approval from the judge – this is something the family courts strongly encourage. After all, nobody knows what’s best for children than their parents. But alas, we do not live in a perfect world. You can be the most reasonable person on Earth but your spouse is bitter and spiteful and determined to fight hard for sole physical custody.

“What happens to my kids if we can’t agree on child custody?” If you and your spouse are not able to reach an agreement, a judge will have to decide for you. However, in California, judges don’t usually make a decision about child custody until after the parents have met with a mediator, who works with Family Court Services.

What Are the Best Interests of the Child?

In family courts across the country, judges make custody decisions based on the “best interests of the child” standard. Since every family’s situation is different, custody is handled on a case-by-case basis. When a judge is deciding what is in the child’s best interests, he or she will consider:

  • The child’s age;
  • The child’s health;
  • Each parent’s financial circumstances;
  • The child’s wishes, if the child is mature enough;
  • Each parent’s wishes;
  • The child’s bond with each parent:
  • Any history of domestic violence;
  • Any history of substance abuse;
  • Any criminal history; and
  • The child’s ties to his or her school, relatives, and community.

The California courts encourage arrangements where both parents are actively involved in their children’s lives, assuming both parents are emotionally and financially stable, and loving. If one parent has a serious issue; for example, if they are abusive, mentally ill, neglectful, engage in criminal behavior, or have a drug or alcohol problem, the judge will be very interested in hearing about it.

Next: How to Have a ‘Good Divorce’

To learn more about child custody and the best interests of the child standard in San Diego, contact Cage & Miles, LLP today.