When parents divorce or break up, they may disagree on what custody arrangement is in their child’s best interests.
Often, these disagreements stem from the fact that they do not understand what “best interests of the child” means in the legal sense.
Factors that dictate what is best for a child
The best interests of a child reflect the situation that best supports a child’s health, safety and happiness. Per California laws, these factors include:
- Parental history of violence or abuse
- How much contact a child has with each parent
- Parental drug or alcohol abuse
- The child’s welfare
- Whether and to what degree a parent supports a child’s education
- Parents’ willingness to foster a relationship between their child and the other parent
The courts can also consider a child’s preference if the child is old enough to form an intelligent opinion on the matter.
Factors that may not affect custody
Despite what parents may think, courts do not consider certain factors that mothers and fathers might. For instance, the courts do not make custody determinations based on:
- Personal character flaws
- A parent’s sex
- A parent’s gender identity or gender expression
- A parent’s sexual orientation
- Which parent makes more money
- Parenting strategies
These and similar factors are not legally irrelevant. They do not make one parent better than the other, and they have no bearing on a child’s best interests.
Determining custody with or without the courts
When parents have a better idea of what the phrase “best interests of the child” means in the legal sense, it can be easier to navigate custody matters themselves rather than going to the courts for resolution.
Those taking this approach would be wise to focus on arrangements that ensure parents have frequent and continuing contact with a child, as long as it supports their well-being. They should consider the same factors as courts, as well as other relevant information.
When parents disagree on custody and visitation, the courts will decide. Under these circumstances, parents lose the control they would have had if they reached an agreement themselves, but the outcome will still prioritize a child’s well-being.
No matter who decides custody, parents must comply with the orders once they are in place. Failure to do so can trigger additional legal disputes and, potentially, harsh consequences.