In determining child custody, the court’s focus is on what is best for the child. While each parent may have a different perspective on how the child will be best served, California law dictates that the court start with two assumptions. First, the health, safety, and welfare of the child are paramount. Second, the court assumes that children do best when they have regular contact with both parents.
“Health, safety, and welfare” is an umbrella term covering a wide variety of situations and circumstances. For example, fathers do not have parental rights for children born from the rape of the mother, and a parent who has murdered the other parent foregoes their parental rights. Judges typically won’t grant custody or visitation to a parent who has been convicted of child abuse, and may limit both if there is documentation of partner abuse, child abuse, or substance abuse.
Factors that positively influence a judge’s decision are the emotional bonds between the parent and child, the parent’s history of involvement with the child’s life and activities, and the parent’s capacity to provide for the child’s daily needs. The judge may also consider which parent is more apt to encourage a relationship and contact with the other parent.
When making a determination about the welfare of a child, the child’s wishes matter – especially if the child is older or more mature. In addition, the court typically makes every attempt to keep siblings together.