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Child Custody Determined by "Best Interest of the Child"

You often hear that custody is awarded on the basis of what is in the best interest of the child in question. However, this standard is conceptually vague, and many parents believe their own care is in a child’s best interest. The court looks at each child custody issue individually and examines the needs of the child and the advantages one parent can provide over the other to determine custody issues. When determining custody, the court looks at:

  • Parental temperament- A parent’s character, demeanor, and mental health can help a court decide which parent can most effectively care for a child.
  • Skill sets- A parent needs demonstrable child-rearing skills to earn custody. Evidence of child-rearing skills may include helping regularly with homework, taking a child to doctor’s appointments and extracurricular activities, the ability to cook, and more.
  • Harmful attributes- Illnesses or vices that may harm a child can come into play during custody proceedings. An alcoholic parent, for instance, may not provide the consistent and appropriate parenting needed to raise a child.
  • Educational level- While educational level may not indicate a better parent on its own, it can have an effect on the court’s willingness to see someone as responsible, able to earn a steady income, and see a child succeed at school.
  • A child’s relationship- Some children naturally have a stronger relationship and emotional tie to one parent than another. In some cases, this can help a judge determine who should have custody. A child’s desires will not win a custody battle, but they can help the court make a more informed decision.
  • Financial status- Like education, financial status can signal to the court that one parent has the means to provide for a child’s needs more easily than another.
  • Precedent- In some cases, parents may have separated before custody hearings. The court will look at which parent has been providing the most support for the child to date.
  • Home environment and special needs- The home environment of the child and the parent’s ability to meet special needs also come to light during custody battles. If one parent lives in an apartment complex on the bad side of town and another lives in a home with a fenced-in yard, that could sway a court’s ruling. Similarly, a parent’s ability to cater to children with special needs will also play a role in the custody determination.
  • Underlying custody motives- Unfortunately, after or during a divorce some parents will fight for custody to get back at the other spouse or to claim dependents on tax returns – not because they truly want to do the right thing by their child. If a court recognizes underlying motives, that alone could take one parent out of the dispute.
  • Employment status- The parent who can demonstrate steady employment and a reliable work history can prove financial security and responsibility. These are two key factors in determining a parent’s ability to care for the needs of a child.
  • Extended family- When one parent gets custody, his or her extended family will likely have an easier time maintaining relationships with that child. A strong relationship with grandparents, aunts/uncles, or other extended family members may help the courts decide on one parent over another.

If it sounds like every aspect of a child’s and parent’s life is under a magnifying glass during custody proceedings, that is because it is. Anything that proves one parent has a better ability to exceed the basic needs of a child and provide a loving, supportive environment can sway a court to consider one individual over another.

Before you create a pros and cons list, remember that some of these factors may hold more weight in a court setting than others. You will need an experienced divorce attorney to help you through these difficult divorce battles. 


Karie Boyd's picture
Family Law Attorney

Karie Boyd is the founding partner and CEO of the Boyd Law firm offices spread throughout the entire state of California. She is a certified family law specialist who consistently delivers case-winning results for her clients in cases taken to trial as well as positions her clients for attractive out of court settlements, when it comes to that. Karie Boyd received her B.A. from the University of San Diego then went and obtained her law degree from the California Western School of Law, after which she started her successful career as a San Diego family attorney. She is very passionate about her work and loves sharing her knowledge and passion of family and divorce law.