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How a court defines the best interests of a child

In any legal matter, you will hear vague-sounding terms thrown around as though they have specific meaning. Often in discussions on matters of child custody we hear mention of a child's "best interests." So, what exactly does it mean, and how does a court define it?

The state of California recognizes two types of child custody, described as physical or legal. Physical custody describes where a child will reside primarily. Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions that affect a child's well-being. While a child's best interests are important for both types, they are especially important regarding a court decision on which party will have physical custody.

There are several factors that a court will take into serious consideration prior to this decision. This set of considerations are defined as the child's "best interests." These guidelines are in place to, as much as possible, prevent traumatic custodial changes that may have long-term effects on a child.

First, a court will look at the age and health of a child, as well as any emotional attachment of the child to each parent. Next, the parties' ability to take care of the child will be taken into consideration. This includes physical care, emotional care, and financial support. Also reviewed will be any history of family violence or substance abuse by parties with whom the child may encounter, or even reside with, if physical custody is granted to a party. Last, but certainly not least, the court will consider a child's ties to his or her school, home, and/or community. This includes how involved a child is in school and extracurricular activities. For example, a child who has played football at a school for years, and is currently being scouted by college recruits, could be traumatized by a forced move due to a custody decision.

California courts take custody decisions very seriously, with a child's well-being as priority. For this reason, there are situations in which custody to a guardian other than a biological parent, such as a grandparent.

Any party facing a courtroom custody battle should have an experienced family law attorney on their side who can help prove how a child's best interests would be met.

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