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What are the "best interests of a child" in a child custody case?

If you have children, you may hear the phrase "best interests of the child" while you are filing for divorce and determining child custody arrangements. What does this phrase means? Generally speaking, family courts in California are focused on the wellbeing of the child when handling child custody and support issues. The courts will consider the child's wellbeing when deciding who they should live with and how much time the other spouse will get to have with them, as well as child support payment amounts.

The goal is to make sure that all of the child's physical, emotional and financial needs are met in a stable home. The child must live in a safe, nurturing environment where they receive shelter, food, clothing, proper schooling and medical care, and all other basic necessities. In addition to their basic needs, courts will also consider the wishes of the child if he or she is old enough to have a logical opinion on the subject.

The courts will also do their best to ensure that the child is protected from any dangerous home conditions. If there is evidence of parental drug or alcohol use, or abuse of any kind, courts will likely take the child away from these circumstances.

Overall, the focus is on the safety and the happiness of the child, and determining which parent will be better able to raise the child. In many cases, physical custody is awarded to one parent, but the other parent will be able to spend time with the child and be required to provide financial support to the child. In such cases, both parents may be awarded legal custody and therefore have the ability to make decisions regarding the child's upbringing.

Nowadays, however, many courts are encouraging joint custody arrangements in which both parents get an equal amount of time with the child and are equally involved in the decision-making process. As long as the child's best interests are the focus, courts will consider many different arrangements when making their decision.

Source: FindLaw, "Focusing on the 'Best Interests' of the Child," accessed July 31, 2017

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