Determining the Best Interests of Children in Custody Cases

by RyanD on September 11, 2012

When deciding custody agreements, the standard that is—or should be—used is “the best interests of the child”. Included in the decision of best interests, certain factors are considered and defined by the California Family Code.

Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody

There are six basic ways that the court may order custody; exclusive sole custody, legal sole custody, physical sole custody, pure joint custody, joint legal custody and joint physical custody.

Legal custody involves the making of decisions regarding the health, welfare and education decisions for your child. Physical custody pertains to where the child will live and with whom.

Although these are the basics, there could be additional orders or exceptions regarding parenting. Total time spent with each parent, visitation restrictions, decisions regarding religion and other matters that the court finds relevant may enter into specific orders and decisions. Additionally, there may be some sort of split custody. These exceptions and additional orders may be included in alternative custody arrangements. Alternative parenting plans are often done to serve the best interests of the children. The best interests of the children in custody plans is a primary goal of the court’s decision.

Best Interest

It is not uncommon for parents to disagree on what is in the best interests of their child. One parent may live in a less desirable neighborhood than the other. The profession of one parent may be disapproved by the other. Moral and ethical issues may be raised that will impact children as they are being raised by one parent or the other. The courts are left to decide which matters to consider and which matters to disregard when determining the best interests of the child. However, there are distinct guidelines in the California Family Code.

California Family Code Section 3020 states that it is the policy of the state of California to assure the safety, health and welfare of children. Furthermore, it is the primary concern of the court to determine the best interests of the child in a custody decision.

Section 3020 (a), specifically mentions that the court finds the perpetration of child abuse or domestic violence to be detrimental to the best interests of the child. Section 3020 (b) additionally states that the policy of the state is to encourage parents to have frequent contact with their children and to share in the responsibilities of raising their children. When there is a conflict between these two principles, the court will make a decision that ensures the health, safety and welfare of the child. In other words, unless the physical or mental well-being of the child or children in question is at risk, shared custody will be encouraged.

Section 3011 describes the means by which the court will determine the best interests of the child. In the introductory comments of the section, it states that the court may consider any factor it finds relevant. It includes but is not limited to child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and the nature of contact with each parent. The relevance of particular information rests with the judge.

Overriding the Best Interest Doctrine

There are cases where the best interests of the child conflicts with parental rights or laws and policy of the State of California. On occasion, the rights of the parents or grandparents may override what some believe is in the best interests of the child. Complicated family structures, adoptions, same sex partners, ethnic and cultural considerations add nuances and degrees of concern for a child’s best interests.

Consult with a California family law attorney to navigate your custody agreement. Everyone wants the best interests for your children, and an experienced family law attorney can aid you in achieving that goal. Your attorney can guide you in resolving the challenges of a custody agreement.


This article was written on behalf of’s family law blog, a great source of information on family law.




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