What Factors Do the Court Consider in Making Custody Orders?

What Factors Do the Court Consider in Making Custody Orders?

Child custody and visitation orders lay down the law on who gets to spend time with the kids, make major decisions on their behalf, and essentially, how the child’s life will be structured post-divorce or separation. Custody orders in California are not to be taken lightly.

They are the bedrock of post-separation parenting, determining how parents will share time, and responsibilities, and make decisions for their children.

This includes everything from where the child will live, go to school, and which parent will be responsible for what aspects of their upbringing.

The courts don’t make these decisions randomly or based on parents’ demands.

They meticulously consider various factors to ensure that the final custody order serves the best interests of the child. Let’s unpack these factors.

What Are the Child’s Best Interests?

At the heart of any child custody case is a straightforward question: What is in the best interests of the child? As a California Courts page notes, there are many factors.

This consideration overshadows all else, guiding the judge’s hand in arranging a custody order that ensures the child’s well-being, stability, and happiness.

The court looks at many aspects to determine what will serve the child’s best interests.

These include the age and health of the child, the emotional bonds they share with each parent, their connection to their school, home, and community, and each parent’s ability to provide care.

Any history of family violence or substance abuse also plays a huge role in the court’s decision.

In California, the Family Code doesn’t give a black-and-white definition of the child’s best interests.

Instead, it provides a framework for judges to consider the health, safety, and welfare of the child, the amount of contact the child has with each parent, any history of abuse, and any substance abuse issues.

Learn more about child custody in California with the help of our experts.

Why Parental Fitness and Ability Are Important?

A parent’s fitness and ability directly impact the child’s safety and well-being, as noted by the National Library of Medicine.

The court examines the parent’s involvement in the child’s life, their commitment to co-parenting, and their ability to provide a nurturing home.

Promoting Emotional and Psychological Development

The emotional stability and mental health of a parent are vital. A parent’s ability to support the child’s emotional and psychological growth will help them become a well-rounded individual.

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The Importance of the Child’s Wishes

In some cases, the child may have a say in the custody arrangement, especially if they are old enough and mature enough to express their reasoning.

However, their wishes are balanced against other factors, including the ability of each parent to provide care and any potential harm to the child.

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Continuity and Stability for Living Arrangements

Maintaining a stable living arrangement and routine is fundamental for a child’s development.

This stability builds a sense of safety and reduces stress and anxiety, which, in turn, supports healthy development in various aspects of a child’s life.

Children need consistency to thrive, and a stable living environment gives them the foundation they need to develop emotionally, socially, and academically.

A disruption in their living arrangements will lead to negative outcomes.

Disruptions such as frequent moves and changes in caregivers can negatively influence the court’s decision.

In addition, factors such as child abuse, neglect, false allegations of abuse, domestic violence, a failure to co-parent, and parental alienation are serious considerations that will lead to a loss of custody.

When it comes to custody decisions, the courts take the stability of the child’s living situation very seriously.

Significance of Co-Parenting and Communication

Co-parenting helps balance the responsibilities of parenthood, allowing parents to rely on each other and make joint decisions in the best interests of the child.

The court pays close attention to the ability of parents to communicate and cooperate.

History of Care and Involvement

The court also considers the historical caregiving roles of each parent and their past involvement in the child’s life.

Parents with a track record of active participation in the child’s life, including being involved in major decisions and spending quality time with them, have a better chance of getting custody.

The court’s goal is to maintain continuity and stability for the child, avoiding major disruptions in their living arrangements.

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3 Important External Factors and Circumstances

Certain factors such as relocation, domestic violence, and substance abuse strongly influence custody decisions.

1. Relocation and Geographic Considerations

A parent’s desire to relocate will likely affect custody arrangements.

The court closely examines the potential effects of a geographical move on the child’s well-being, access to both parents and their established routine.

In relocation cases, the parent wishing to move may need to seek court approval and ensure that the move is in the best interest of the child, as noted by the California Courts self-help guide.

2. Domestic Violence and Child Safety

Domestic violence is taken very seriously in custody cases, with the safety of the child being the top priority.

A history of domestic violence will create a presumption against awarding custody to the abusive parent, although this can be rebutted if the parent can prove that they are not a risk to the child.

3. Substance Abuse and Addiction

The court conducts a thorough risk assessment to determine the impact of the parent’s substance abuse on their ability to provide care and make decisions in the best interests of the child.

Efforts towards rehabilitation and ensuring the child’s safety are key considerations in these cases.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, when making custody court orders, the court takes into account different factors to determine what is best for the child.

This includes considering the child’s age, health, emotional ties to the parents, connections to their community, and the ability of each parent to care for them. Any history of violence or substance abuse is also taken into consideration.

Everyone involved should prioritize the child’s well-being and work together to provide a stable, nurturing environment that supports their development and happiness.

For more information on custody and visitation rights, or to discuss your specific situation with a legal professional, get in touch with us today.


What does the court mean by “best interests of the child?”

The “best interests of the child” is a legal standard that courts use to make decisions affecting a child, including custody arrangements. The court considers different factors to determine what will best ensure the child’s safety, health, stability, and overall well-being. This includes the child’s age, health, emotional ties to each parent, ties to the community, and the parents’ ability to provide care.

How does the court handle allegations of domestic violence in custody cases?

If there are allegations of domestic violence, the court takes them very seriously and prioritizes the safety and well-being of the child. In California,, there is a presumption against awarding custody to a parent who has a history of domestic violence, unless the accused parent can show that they have taken steps to address the issue.

How does substance abuse affect custody decisions?

The court will conduct a risk assessment to evaluate the extent of the abuse and its impact on the child. The parent with substance abuse issues may need to show evidence of rehabilitation and an ability to provide a safe environment for the child to maintain or obtain custody.

Can a parent lose custody for failing to co-parent effectively?

Yes, a parent can lose custody for failing to co-parent effectively. Courts value the parents’ ability to communicate, make joint decisions, and cooperate in raising their child. If a parent is unwilling or unable to co-parent, it will negatively affect custody decisions.

How does a parent’s desire to relocate affect custody arrangements?

A parent’s desire to relocate will affect custody arrangements, especially if the move would interfere with the current custody and visitation order. The parent wishing to relocate may need to obtain a court order, and the court will assess the potential effects of the move on the child’s well-being and access to both parents. The best interests of the child will be the main consideration in making this decision.

DISCLAIMER: This information is made available by Happ Law Group P.C. for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general understanding of California law, not to provide specific legal advice. If you are in need of advice about your specific situation, you should consult with a California family law attorney.