How Does the Court Choose Who Gets Custody? by Cassandra Hearn

Custody cases are some of the most difficult in family law.  Parents want to ensure that the parenting and custody schedule reached by the court reflects what is in the child’s best interest.  During a custody dispute, parents often have very different opinions on what that means and who should get custody of the child.  Understanding how the court decides who will get custody is an important step in receiving a favorable outcome in your child custody case. 

During contested child custody cases, a judge will make a decision of custody and visitation based on what is in the child’s best interest.  The best interest factors are set out in the California family code.  These factors cover a wide range of topics, but the main goal is to ensure that the child’s safety and welfare is properly looked after.  The goal of custody and visitation schedules is to help maximize the child’s time and bonding opportunity with each parent.  The court will also want to examine each parent’s respective parenting skills, history of bonding and nurturing with the child, and other issues such as each parent’s willingness to foster a relationship between the other parent and the child.

It is also possible in some cases for the court to take a child’s reasonable preference it account.  There is no specific age at which a child is allowed to express a preference or a court is required to take the child’s preference into account.  The standard is whether the child is of sufficient age or maturity to actually express that preference.

A custody decision will also take into account the behavior of the parents.  The most common issue to be brought up in this factor is allegations that the other parent has been making disparaging comments or otherwise trying to undermine the relationship between the other parent and the child.  The court is also required to take into account other examples of bad behavior, such as habitual substance abuse or threats to abduct the child.  Domestic violence also plays a serious role in the child custody determination, and it is not required that the allegations be proven in a criminal court before the court may take that into account.

There are many factors that go into a child custody determination and you need an experienced attorney to help you navigate the issues.Contact us today to talk about your child.