California Court Reviews Factors in Determining the Best Interests of the Child in a Custody Case

In child custody proceedings arising in San Diego and throughout California, the court must make a determination of what is in the best interests of the child. The state Family Code identifies factors for the court to consider in making the determination. According to the state Legislature, the primary consideration under the statute is the health, safety, and welfare of the child. The court must also consider any history of abuse by one parent against the child or the other parent, the nature and amount of contact with the parents and any substance abuse by either parent. If you are facing a child custody matter of any kind, it is critical that you contact an experienced family law attorney who can help achieve an arrangement that is in the best interest of your child.

In a recent case, the mother appealed the trial court’s decision to grant sole physical custody of the couple’s son to the father. The parties were married in 2005 and had one child in 2007. During the marriage, the mother contracted swine flu and became very ill. She was hospitalized and in a coma. The illness inflicted permanent damage to her lungs. During her hospital stay and even after her release, the mother took high doses of narcotic painkillers, such as morphine and dilaudid.

They separated on March 28, 2011, which was triggered by a domestic violence incident in which the mother attacked the father. The court issued a restraining order at that time. The year after the parties separated, the mother continued to visit the hospital complaining of pain for which she received dilaudid. At trial, she testified to taking approximately 10 different medications on a regular basis. In March 2013, the court awarded the father sole physical custody of the child. The mother was permitted supervised visitation for two hours each week. She appealed.

At the outset, the court of appeals pointed out that the standard of review of custody and visitation orders is the “deferential abuse of discretion” test. The trial court looked to the California Family Code to determine the best interests of the child under the circumstances in this case. The court found that the mom engaged in continual and habitual abuse of prescribed medication and alcohol, was physically abusive to the father, and sometimes placed the child in physical danger because of her inattentiveness. As additional evidence to support the ruling, the trial court cited the two-year restraining order that the father obtained against the mother. The court of appeals found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding sole physical custody to the father. Here, the record shows that the trial court conscientiously considered the factors set forth in the Family Code, and that the evidence supported each of these factors.

Although this is an unpublished opinion and parties may not cite to or rely on the decision, the court’s reasoning may still serve to inform later cases in this jurisdiction. Child custody cases are difficult, especially when parents have differing ideas about what is in the best interests of the child. An experienced family law attorney can help guide you through the process with information about the laws and procedures that will be applicable to your case.

Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt and Forney, APLC serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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