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If you want to increase your odds of obtaining a better custody agreement in California, you must prove to the judge that living with you for a majority of the time is in your child’s best interests. Though there is no standard definition of “best interests,” each state has its own set of guiding principles it uses to make best interest determinations.

Children’s Bureau details best interest standards for each state, including California. California is one of 28 states that places the greatest emphasis on family integrity and permanence. The state does not believe in removing a child from his or her family home if it is not necessary. California also stresses the importance of maintaining sibling and other familial bonds. If you stay in the family home and can prove that you have close ties with other family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-siblings, etc.) that the other parent does not, you may have a chance at a better custody outcome.

California is also one of two states that gives considerable weight to a child’s Indian heritage. If you have strong ties to your tribal community and wish the same for your child, the state is likely to do what is necessary to preserve your child’s unique tribal culture and values — including awarding you more custody.

Aside from having to consider familial bonds and tribal relationships, California family law judges are free to use their discretion to make best interest determinations. To make the fairest determination, the judge presiding over your case may consider a number of factors related to your child’s circumstances, both yours and the other parent’s circumstances, both yours and the other parent’s capacity to raise your child and your child’s safety and well-being. The judge may also consider both yours and the other parent’s criminal record, history of drug or alcohol abuse, history of violence and other relevant details of your past.

The information in this article is intended to provide you with a general idea of how California courts make child custody determinations. It should not be construed as legal advice.