When parents are going through a divorce, judges give special importance to the best interests of children when making decisions. This can influence matters like property division, child custody and parenting plans in California. When determining what will be best for a child or children, courts look at the circumstances of each situation and try to ensure a child’s well-being and safety.

In general, courts prefer to keep children with their families and want to make long-term decisions in a timely manner to give children stability. However, a judge can deviate from these priorities if it is necessary to ensure a child’s safety. For example, courts usually believe it is best for a child to have regular contact with both parents but might decide against this if one parent has a history of domestic violence.

When determining child custody, judges usually consider factors like the emotional ties a child has with each parent and any siblings or family members, the emotional, mental and physical needs of a child and the ability of each parent to provide for a child’s safety and basic needs. Each parent’s physical and mental health is normally considered too. California judges are not required to consider a child’s wishes but might take a child’s thoughts into account when he or she is old enough and mature enough to express an opinion.

While courts can make final changes to a parenting plan or custody agreement, it is usually easier and less costly when parents can make child custody decisions together. Solutions like mediation or collaborative divorce might also be helpful because they could allow parents to establish channels of communication that will likely be needed when raising children while divorced or separated, and these processes may also be less stressful for parents and their children.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway , “Determining the Best Interests of the Child“, December 04, 2014