How Does California Define the Best Interests of the Child?

Custody disputes are often framed as a “battle” between two adults. Legally, this may be the case. However, it leaves out the person most heavily affected by the dispute: the child. 

Because minors don’t have legal agency, they can become an afterthought in matters that define their futures. That’s why California requires all custody matters to be decided in accordance with the best interests of the children in question. 

This standard is more complex than it may seem. Here’s how California instructs judges to determine the child’s best interest and how it may affect cases like yours.

Defining the Best Interests Standard

The best interests standard is derived from the California Family Code. Section 3020 of the Code states, “it is the public policy of this state to ensure that the health, safety, and welfare of children shall be the court’s primary concern […] when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children.” The law goes on to say that children should also have the right to continued relationships with their parents and freedom from abuse. 

Whenever a California court issues a child custody order, it must determine what will best support the children’s health, welfare, safety, and parental relationships. This is often a balancing act. In many cases, the court must determine whether it is better for the child to maintain a relationship with a parent that could harm their health or welfare. 

When Is It in the Child’s Best Interests to Restrict a Parent’s Custody?

The state prioritizes joint custody because California considers ongoing parental relationships an important part of a child’s welfare. However, the law recognizes that some parents are unsuited for raising children. Health and safety are considered more important than relationships, so judges may use their discretion to assign one parent primary or sole custody and restrict the other to visitation or no contact at all.

This is most common when one parent has a history of abuse or unlawful drug use. These are considered serious and dangerous problems that may prevent that person from safely caring for a child. Depending on the severity of the behavior, the court may award that person visitation, supervised visitation, or bar visits entirely. 

Other reasons parents may lose rights toward their children include:

  • A history of non-abuse violence
  • Parental alienation
  • False allegations of abuse
  • Refusal to co-parent
  • Violating court orders
  • Parental kidnapping

Get Help With Your Custody Dispute

If you’re worried about maintaining custody of your children, you should always put their best interests first. The courts certainly will. 

The best way to prioritize your child’s health, safety, and welfare is by working with an experienced California family law attorney. The team at the Viola Law Firm, P.C., can help. Schedule your consultation today to learn more. 

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