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What does the term “best interest of the child” mean?

Any parent going through a divorce has likely heard the term “best interest of the children.” This term is the guiding principle when it comes to child custody determination. Whether putting together your own plan or relying on the courts, it is important to have a basic understanding for how this legal principle works.

The first question parents going through a divorce often asks is what does this term mean? Trying to find an answer can be frustrating, what one person thinks is the best for a child can vary greatly from what another would determine is best. Thankfully, the decision is not just based on what a person thinks is best. Lawmakers have provided some guidance.

What does the law say?

It is important to note that the definition of this term can vary by state. California law states that the court shall consider a range of factors, including:

  • Safety. The first priority is the safety of the child. The court will review the living situation to ensure it is safe for the child. This can include a review of previous records for any concerns or allegations of abuse.
  • Health. The court can also review the health of all involved. It may inquire into parental health to ensure the parent is healthy enough to raise the child as well as any potential health needs for the child. The court will also consider any habitual use or abuse of certain substances including illegal substances, prescribed controlled substances, and alcohol.
  • History. The court will also look at past contact with the child. They will likely review the history to see if one parent was absent or if both were actively involved in the child’s upbringing.

The court can consider other factors that it finds relevant to your specific case. This provides a bit of flexibility so the decision can be tailored to your family’s needs.

How does this work in real life?

Knowing what the law says is one thing, but seeing how it works can be even more helpful. The courts generally prefer both parents play an active role in raising the children. If, however, there is a history of drug abuse or domestic violence the courts are likely to provide custody to the other parent.

Navigating the nuances of family law in California is no easy task. This is true in the best of circumstances. Add in the emotional turmoil that comes with the end of the marriage and needing to redefine what family looks like moving forward and it is no surprise many parents find themselves feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. It is important to recognize that you are not alone — and you do not have to go through the process alone, either. You can utilize legal counsel to help guide you through, to discuss the various options and help develop a plan that works best for your family’s future.