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Courts judge parents seeking child custody on 4 basic factors

Although family courts in California take unique circumstances into account when reviewing child custody petitions, four basic guidelines form the basis for parental evaluation. These are positive environment, previous involvement, present participation and personal character.

A positive living environment generally arises when a parent has the financial means to provide shelter, clothing, food, education and health care. Red flags, like allegations of abuse that resulted in an investigation by law enforcement or child protective services, would give a judge pause before awarding custody.

Previous involvement describes how actively a parent has been participating in a child's life. Long absences without reasonable explanations could cause a court to question someone's commitment to parenting. To meet the guideline for present participation, a parent must be available to care for a child on an ongoing basis with allowances made for working. Personal character contributes greatly to a judge's opinion about a person. Judges want to confirm that people have stable lives and are making their children a top priority. Criminal records, drug or alcohol abuse, excessive debts and a spotty work record could impact someone's ability to gain child custody.

A person who needs to petition a court for child custody may benefit from asking an attorney for guidance. Legal advice is appropriate even if someone is preparing for the mediation process and not anticipating a court battle with the former partner. If a person has concerns about achieving specific goals, an attorney might suggest solutions that might produce effective compromises and meet the legal guidelines. The divorce settlement, including child custody agreement, that emerges from negotiations might be written by an attorney and submitted to a court for review and approval.

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