What is important in Child Custody Cases?

California Family Code Section 3020(a) provides the starting base when dealing with the issue of child custody. It states that the California Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of California to assure that the health, safety, and welfare of the children shall be the court’s primary concern in determining the best interest of children when making orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children.

Family courts and judges will then examine and weigh evidence in legal actions or proceedings involving the issue of child custody using a “best interest” standard in which to make their decisions. Since the primary concern and public policy for California is to assure the health, safety and welfare of children, family court judges will assess whether a ruling for legal or physical custody or visitation is one that is in the best interest of children.

California Family Code Section 3020 goes on to say, under subsection (b) of that Code, that it is the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship, and to encourage parents to share the responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy, except where the contact would not be in the best interest of the child, as provided under Section 3011 of the Family Code.

There is acknowledgment as seen in Section 3020(b) that children should receive and have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. When family court judges attempt to fashion orders involving custody or visitation, they will attempt to fashion such orders (after weighing the best interest of the children) such that both parents are assured of having frequent contact and visitation with their children. Therefore, parents do not necessarily gain any advantage over the other parent if one of them decides to file a petition for divorce, a petition for custody and visitation, or even a petition for paternity first before the other parent does. There seems to exist an unrealistic view that “filing first” will allow one parent to gain advantage over another in a custody or visitation dispute. The California Family Codes emphasizes and recognizes the importance that children should receive frequent and contact with both parents, in the event if that arrangement is in fact in the best interest of the children. In fact, in the case of Enrique M. v. Angelina V., 174 Cal App 4th 1148, 94 Cal Rptr 3rd 883 (2009), it stated that the United States Supreme Court has endorsed the best interest standard for adjudicating custody disputes between parents, and further held that a California trial court is required to resolve such disputes in the best interest of the child.

Parents are reminded by the Family Code that the best interest of the children comes first over any other interest, including the parents, in family law cases.