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The child's best interests in custody cases

California parents who are unable to come to an agreement outside of court regarding child custody, visitation and support may need to have a judge make the decision. The first thing the judge will look at in determining who gets primary physical custody is who the child's primary caretaker is. Psychologists feel that this is an important bond that is critical to a child's healthy development and that should not be disrupted if possible.

Several factors are considered in this determination. The judge will look at who took on the bulk of responsibility for things such as school conferences, extracurricular activities, health care, food preparation, clothing and laundry, and leisure activities. If there is no clear primary caretaker, the judge will then take the best interests of the child into account.

Determining the child's best interests involves looking at how much stability each parent can offer, the physical and mental health of the parents and whether excessive discipline, abuse or alcohol and drug use have been a factor. Depending on the child's age, his or her own wishes may be considered. Other elements are the child's relationship with other family members, how well the child will adjust to a new school and community if that is the case, and the religious preferences of both parent and child.

Some parents may struggle with custody issues for a number of reasons. A custody dispute may arise because a parent is genuinely concerned about the child's safety with the other parent, but it can also come from a parent's hurt and anger over a divorce. An attorney may be able to help guide a parent toward a solution that is in the best interests of the child. Usually, this includes some time with both parents although in some cases only supervised visitation with one parent may be allowed.

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