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Child Custody—California Courts Consideration in Making Custody Awards—Part 1: “Best Interest of the Child” Standard— Child’s Health, Safety & Welfare

In my California family-law practice, I receive no less than approximately 20 calls and emails per week from concerned parents regarding  custody matters.  Invariably, father or mother is concerned that the other  parent is seeking full physical and/or full legal custody of their child; thus, feeling at risk of being deprived or at risk of losing their child to the other parent.  Given the number of  people seeking such information, I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog series about the issue of custody and how the California legal system determines the outcome of such legal requests.  Hopefully, this will help give you some guidance as you proceed in navigating your way through the California family legal system.

First, issues relating to children include legal custody, physical custody (link), visitation and guideline child support.

In the California courts, the judges  use a legal standard known as the “Best Interests of the Child” standard. This legal standard is, in reality, an analysis of numerous factors affecting the bests interest of a child such as health issues, safety issues and welfare issues but to name a few.

Begin we begin, a short history lesson.  Our legislature declared many years ago that it is the public policy of California to ensure that each child’s health, safety and welfare, to include being free from child abuse and domestic violence in a child’s residence,  be the court’s primary concern in determining the child’s best interests when making physical or legal custody and visitation orders. (Family Code section 3020(a)). Further in considering the child’s best interests, the California courts must ensure that court consideration is made regarding frequent and continuing contact with both parents, which is yet a another public policy of our California legislature.

There are many factors the court will examine and consider—the main ones being the health, safety and welfare of the child.


What exactly does this mean—the health, safety and welfare of the child?

  1. Health: this factor is a large umbrella subject covering many sub-issues. For example, the courts will examine any and all factors relating to the health of the child, e.g. is the child sick or healthy, is the child properly nourished (or not), is the child receiving required health-care check-ups, are there any learning disabilities or health issues that need to be addressed. If so, which parent is better able to ensure the child receives and/or maintains the child’s health or healthcare.  In sum, any and all issues relating to the child’s health (good and/or bad) need to be brought to the court’s attention.
  1. Safety: this factor covers issues relating to the child’s safety–in any and all respects. For example, if the child is being bullied at school, which parent is the better parent able to address such issues; which home or neighborhood  provides the most safety to the child; is the child subject to child abuse by any parent, step-parent, sibling, boyfriend/girlfriend (physical, emotional, sexual, psychological).   It behooves a parent to bring to the court’s attention any and all issues relating to a child’s safety.
  1. Welfare: this factor is a catchall for all remaining issues. The factors here relate to, for instance, the emotional welfare of the child and other factors that aid in the child’s emotional welfare. Some examples include, but are not limited to the following: 1) factors associates with maintaining the child’s religious beliefs; 2) factors associated with maintaining the child’s emotional stability; 4) factors associated with maintaining the child’s psychological stability, and so on.

The statements made in this blog entry are but a very small sampling of the factors the court will look at in a custody case. Bottom line is this: the court will consider any and all factors to make a legal determination of what is in a child’s best interests.  Understanding the court’s legal standard in a custody case is the first step towards a parent inching their way towards winning their custody case. In the end, however, the outcome of a custody case will depend on all the facts and evidence presented to the court.

In the next blog series on California Court’s Consideration in Making Custody Awards, Part 2, I will be focusing on the issues of Abuse and Domestic Violence as they relate the “best interests of the child” standard.  This is a very important factor for the California courts to consider when making a determination on custody. Happy reading!

Ms. Garrett is a qualified and experienced California family-law attorney. Click here  if you wish to discuss your California custody matter with Ms. Garrett.

Child Custody–California Courts Consideration in Making Custody Awards–All Blogs

Part 1: “Best Interest of the Child” Standard— Child’s Health, Safety & Welfare

Part 2: “Best Interest of the Child” Standard—Part 2: Abuse & Domestic Violence 

Part 3: “Part 3: Contact With Parents and Siblings, and Use of Controlled Substances or Alcohol”

Part 4:”Parents’ Gender”

Part 5: “A Child’s Preference

Part 6: Crimes of Parents: Parent is a Registered Sex Offender (or Person Convicted of Child Abuse) or Rapist”

Part 7: “Existing Restraining Orders” 

Part 8

 Legal Disclaimer: Everything on this blog pertains to California law only and is written by an attorney licensed to practice only in the State of California. Further, information provided on this blog post or this website is to be used for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice in any way shape or form. The underlying purpose of this blog post is to provide the reader with general information to use in talking with an attorney and/or as a general guide when conducting  their own research on their  particular legal matter.  Finally, keep in mind that if you are not a California resident and/or your  matter is not based in California, the laws may differ in your state. In such cases, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance and/or review information that relates to the laws of your state.

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