When the court makes child custody determinations it rules based on the best interests of the child. The best interest of the child is defined as the fluid standard that seeks to “maximize the child’s opportunity to develop into a stable, well-adjusted adult.” (In Re: Adoption of Matthew B., 1991). There is no fixed set of rules to govern the decision process, however the court has certain guidelines when determining the best interest of the child.
- The child’s health, safety, and welfare.
- The nature and the amount of the child’s contact with both parents.
- History of drug or alcohol abuse.
- History of abuse
- Any other factors the court deems relevant.
The court determines the best interest of the child objectively from the child’s stand point. The feelings of the parents are only relevant if they affect the child’s best interest.
The child’s health, safety, and welfare
This pertains to the physical and emotional well-being of the child. The courts examine the ability of the parent to provide the proper nourishment and health care for the child, and the parent’s ability to ensure the child’s freedom from harm inside and outside the household. The court also considers the parent’s capability to provide the best environment for the child’s mental development, emotional stability and psychological health.
The nature and amount of the child’s contact with both parents
The court determines the nature and the amount of contact that the child has with either parent. This is to ensure that the court grants custody to the parent or parents that emotionally connect with the child. Close parent-child relationships are linked to the healthy development of adolescents, and eventually, adults (Longmore, et al, 2012). It also provides the Sacramento family court with the opportunity to determine readiness and willingness of the parents to shoulder the rigors and responsibility of rearing the child.
History of drug or alcohol abuse
The Sacramento family court also considers the parent’s history of alcohol and drug abuse, if any. A parent who has a history of substance abuse may not be in the best position to raise a child and may affect the child’s health, safety and welfare. Evidence of such abuse may be taken from police reports, law enforcement agencies, medical reports or even eyewitness testimonies.
History of abuse
Abuse is the non-accidental infliction of physical, psychological or sexual harm against another. The courts seeks to unearth any history of abuse from one parent or any other person seeking custody against (1) the natural child (2) A child under their care even if temporarily, (3) The other parent, (4) A partner to whom he or she has dating relations with or, (5) the ascendant of the other parent. In the court’s view, an abusive parent can threaten the health, safety and welfare of the child. When one parent is found to be abusive, there is a presumption under the family code against awarding custody to the domestic violence perpetrator.
Due to the volatile nature of child custody cases there is also a danger of one parent making false child abuse allegations against the other parent. If the allegations are proven false, the alleging spouse may be held responsible for perjury and the act may damage their ability to gain child custody.
The court decides whether to give joint or sole custody over the child based on the best interest of the child standard and its multi-factored inquiry. However, the list is not exclusive, and the enumeration is not rigid. The defect in any of these factors does not automatically mean that one parent will lose custody. All these factors are taken in totality. Every case is unique and different where every factor and circumstance must be scrutinized by the court to reach a just and proper decision.
While this article pertains to the Sacramento family court’s standard for determining child custody, any family court in California is guided by the same. Whether the family court is located in Roseville or Sacramento, the best interest of the child standard will guide the court’s reasoning.