Moms and Dads who enter the Family Court system quickly hear the phrase "best interest of the child." The meaning is easy to understand but figuring out what is truly best for any given child can be quite complex. An assessment of the following factors may be helpful to you in determining the best interest of the child:
1 The age of the child;
The developmental needs and important tasks are different from Birth to Teen. The first place to look for information about this factor is in the realm of basic child development knowledge. Search for "developmental needs and tasks of a child age ____ and then read, consider and talk with someone you trust to help you make sense of the information for your child.
2 The relationship of the child's parents and any other persons who may significantly affect the child's welfare;
If parents cannot cooperatively coparent a child with each other then the child is at risk. If the extended friend and family network is hostile to one of the coparents the child is at risk. If it's your fault or your family then fix it. Do what you need to do to protect your own child,
3 The preference of the child, if old enough to express a meaningful preference;
This is a tough one because parents consciously and unconsciously manipulate their children to "choose" one parent over the other all too often in custody disputes. The reason? It's usually one of 2 things: money (child support) or ego/insecurity (unstable parent). If the parents can't listen to their own child and take the child's preference into account, then experts will probably need to get involved to prevent influence from one or both parents.
4 The duration and adequacy of the child's current living arrangements and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
Children need routine. The breakup of the family disrupts routine and, depending on the parents, may create a chaotic environment for a long period of time. Again, if parents are unable to work together to preserve routines or create new routines quickly, experts will probably need to get involved to protect the child's basic need for routine and consistency.
5 The stability of any proposed living arrangements for the child;
Children need routine. If one of the parents will be moving frequently or travelling frequently or has lost his or her job, or housing, these issues must be considered in terms of the child's primary living situation.
6 The motivation of the parties involved and their capacities to give the child love, affection and guidance;
If parents are not able to trust each other to give the child love, affection and guidance then the parents will probably end up with recommendations being made by a child custody recommending evaluator at Family Court Services, a division of the Family Courts in California.
7 The child's adjustment to the child's present home, school and community;
This is difficult to determine if the parents are not engaging in cooperative coparenting. Children suffer when parents forget how to be friends and their behavior shows it. Don't be quick to blame the behavior of a child on one parent or the other. It's a good idea to look first to the cooperation between Mom and Dad and address that before assuming a child needs a change of primary home, school, or community.
8 The capacity of each parent to allow and encourage frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent, including physical stress;
Parents who share a child between two homes must be able and willing sacrifice time with the child and endure inconvenience for the sake of their child. If a parent's position toward the other parent is blame, revenge, criticism, and withholding the child then the child should be primarily with the other parent.
9 The capacity of each parent to cooperate in childcare;
Childcare is not only a necessity for most parents, it is good for children! Children need a balance of time with parents and caregivers (childcare, preschool, grandparents, etc). Childcare is usually a shared expense between parents when childcare is required for a parent to be able to work. There are many aspects to cooperation in the area of childcare that must be considered.
10 Methods for assisting parental cooperation and resolving disputes and each parent's willingness to use these methods;
Regular coparenting meetings with a coparenting coach is an excellent and cost-effective way to resolve disputes when coparents have a disagreement. Parents who are quick to litigate but resist cooperative problem solving are usually not a good choice for a primary parent.
11 The effect on the child if one parent has sole authority over the child's upbringing;
In some cases it is critical that one parent have sole authority over the child's upbringing. This is the case when a child has been diagnosed with special needs and one parent refuses to accept the special needs of the child.
12 History of Domestic Violence
There is a presumption in DV cases that the identified perpetrator of the violence should not have legal or physical custody of the child.
All other factors having reasonable bearing on the physical and psychological well-being of the child will also be considered.
Cooperative coparenting is in the best interest of the child. Cooperative coparents do not talk through their attorneys. Cooperative coparents ask for an in-person coparenting meeting not an Ex Parte with the judge to discuss an area of disagreement. Parents dealing with the pain of a family breakup can learn to coparent cooperatively with the help of an expert in child development and family breakup. Find someone to help you learn the skills for cooperative coparenting - that is in the best interest of any child!