California family law involving the visitation, legal, or physical custody of children considers the best interest of the child as a vital consideration. California’s “Best Interest of the Child” standard is compiled from California Family Code Sections 3011, 3020, and 3040. The “Best Interest of the Child” standard, however, leaves many confused when the Court rules against them. While the title make is sound clear, people are often frustrated when the Court adopts a ruling that is contrary to what they think is in the best interest of their children. Many people prepare a list of all the reasons they think the Court should grant custody to them instead of the other parent. When they arrive at Court, they attempt to list off all the reasons the other parent is a terrible parent, or person in general, and expect the Court to easily side with them. In their minds, how could a reasonable Court not see custody should be given to them?
It is a fairly common complaint because people view the standard through the lens of what they think is best for their children. When you have parents of differing opinion (as is often the case) someone is bound to be upset with the Court’s determination of what is in the “best interest” of the children.
California family Court is not the place to air your grievances against the other parent. For the most part, the Court generally does not care much about why you don’t like the other parent, or why you think they are not a good parent. California family court is in place to settle disputes between you. As a neutral third party they are not, or at least should not be, interested in fixing, changing or judging you or the other parent.
What the Court really wants to hear about when determining custody of your kids is a specific list of legal factors the state of California finds relevant. These factors are outlined in California Family Code §3011 and §3040.
California Family Code §3011 states:
(a) In making a determination of the best interests of the child in a proceeding described in Section 3021, the court shall, among any other factors it finds relevant and consistent with Section 3020, consider all of the following:
(1) The health, safety, and welfare of the child.
(2) (A) A history of abuse by one parent or any other person seeking custody against any of the following:
(i) A child to whom the parent or person seeking custody is related by blood or affinity or with whom the parent or person seeking custody has had a caretaking relationship, no matter how temporary.
(ii) The other parent.
(iii) A parent, current spouse, or cohabitant, of the parent or person seeking custody, or a person with whom the parent or person seeking custody has a dating or engagement relationship.
(B) As a prerequisite to considering allegations of abuse, the court may require independent corroboration, including, but not limited to, written reports by law enforcement agencies, child protective services or other social welfare agencies, courts, medical facilities, or other public agencies or private nonprofit organizations providing services to victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. As used in this paragraph, “abuse against a child” means “child abuse and neglect” as defined in Section 11165.6 of the Penal Code and abuse against any of the other persons described in clause (ii) or (iii) of subparagraph (A) means “abuse” as defined in Section 6203.
(3) The nature and amount of contact with both parents, except as provided in Section 3046.
(4) The habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances, the habitual or continual abuse of alcohol, or the habitual or continual abuse of prescribed controlled substances by either parent. Before considering these allegations, the court may first require independent corroboration, including, but not limited to, written reports from law enforcement agencies, courts, probation departments, social welfare agencies, medical facilities, rehabilitation facilities, or other public agencies or nonprofit organizations providing drug and alcohol abuse services. As used in this paragraph, “controlled substances” has the same meaning as defined in the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act (Division 10 (commencing with Section 11000) of the Health and Safety Code).
But there is not always a consensus as to the exact weight or value each individual factor is given when calculating how to make a custody decision. That ambiguity can be incredibly frustrating. California Courts do agree, however, that the best interests of the child are always given more weight and attention then the rights and interests claimed by the parents.
California Family Code §3040 provides Courts “the widest discretion to choose a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child”. This often, but not always, means joint legal or physical custody of the children between the parties.
California Family Code §3040 states:
(a) Custody should be granted in the following order of preference according to the best interest of the child as provided in Sections 3011 and 3020:
(1) To both parents jointly pursuant to Chapter 4 (commencing with Section 3080) or to either parent. In making an order granting custody to either parent, the court shall consider, among other factors, which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the noncustodial parent, consistent with Sections 3011 and 3020. The court, in its discretion, may require the parents to submit to the court a plan for the implementation of the custody order.
(2) If to neither parent, to the person or persons in whose home the child has been living in a wholesome and stable environment.
(3) To any other person or persons deemed by the court to be suitable and able to provide adequate and proper care and guidance for the child.
It is important to note that generally before the Court will issue a ruling on custody and visitation, the Court will try to make you and the other party reach an agreement. The Court hopes that both parties are able to put their differences aside and come together to make joint decisions that truly will be in the best interest of their children. An agreement between the parties is often the best result because both parents are involved in the decision and they are working together on a mutual plan for their kids. The Court finds this so important, in fact, that before you have a chance to tell the Court all the reasons you think you should get custody of your children the Court will require you to attend Family Court Services Mediation to try to get you to reach some kind of agreement with the other party.
If you are in a custody battle situation, having an attorney on your side can help make all the difference. The right attorney that understands you and your family will use your specific situation and developed case law to advocate on your behalf in negotiations and trial. Don’t get left wondering why the Court ruled something was in the best interest of your children. Butler Law can be the advocate you need to help you navigate this complex area of the law and focus on what is truly important, your kids.