Kathleen J. Smith, Attorney at Law

What are the "best interests" of the child?

Like many parents, your children are your life. You likely make many sacrifices for them and do so without a thought for your own well-being. Trying to imagine holidays, vacations or even weekends apart from your kids is difficult, to say the least.

However, going through a divorce means that these situations are a very real possibility. If you are facing a custody battle, you probably have many concerns. Even if your ex-spouse is an excellent parent, it may be difficult for you to give up any time the court orders for the other parent. However, if you have doubts about your partner's fitness as a parent, you may benefit from understanding the standard by which a custody court will make its decision.

Defining the child's best interests

You may be surprised to learn that the court is not too concerned about what you want, but is more interested in what is best for your children. You may want this too, but emotions can sometimes cloud one's reasoning, especially when it comes to your children. While California custody courts may differ from other states in the way they handle custody matters, there are some general agreements about what is best for a child.

The best interests of the child is the standard by which courts make custody decisions. For example, you may want the children to be with you during the week. However, if your ex-spouse lives in a safer neighborhood where the children will be able to continue attending the same school and playing with their friends, the court may grant custody to your ex-spouse because safety and consistency are in the best interests of the children.

Other factors that may be in a child's best interest include the following:

  • Parents who are actively involved in a child's education
  • Opportunities for extra-curricular activities that foster the child's interests
  • Parents who are concerned about the health and safety of the child
  • A parent who is willing to cooperate with each other and foster the child's relationship with the other parent
  • Living arrangements that allow the child to remain in a familiar situation

You can take comfort in knowing that many courts realize it is generally in a child's best interest to have as much regular interaction with both parents as possible. This is why judges do not easily grant permission for a parent to move the child away from a co-parent who has been active and involved in the child's life.

If you expect a contentious custody process, you would do well to learn as much as you can about the best way to present yourself as a fit parent who has the children's best interests at heart. Your attorney can offer suggestions for making the most of this opportunity.

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