Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Nov 13, 2012

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Actress Halle Berry has been involved in a custody dispute over her 4-year-old daughter, Nahla, since her 5-year relationship with ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry ended in 2010. Most recently, a Los Angeles judge has ruled that the actress cannot legally relocate to France because it would violate Aubry’s child custody rights.

A child custody evaluation concerning Nahla’s best interests stated that the child “shouldn’t be separated from her father,” according to this report. When deciding child custody matters, courts will always look to the best interests of the child or children. Contrary to what many might think, a child will not automatically be placed with the mother. If it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to remain with or close to the father, a court will rule in favor of this arrangement.

Berry originally petitioned the family court to allow her and Nahla to move to France to live with Berry’s fiance, French actor Olivier Martinez, claiming Paris would be a safer place for the young child to grow up. She had cited in her reasoning that she feared for her daughter’s safety because two of the actress’s known stalkers were either recently released from jail or escaped from a psychiatric facility in the United States.

To some family court judges this may be grounds for allowing the mother to move with the child as it would be in the best interests of that child. But Aubry countered to the court that Berry’s request should be denied given the move would mean Nahla would grow up far from her father. The court sided with Aubry.

Understanding Child Custody

A judge will generally only separate a child from a parent if there is a very compelling reason to do so, such as neglect or abuse. There are two ways child custody can be determined:

  1. The preferable method is that, together, the parents draft a custody/visitation agreement known as a parenting plan. The plan is typically approved by the family court during divorce proceedings. Once an agreement is approved by a judge, it is legally binding.
  2. If the parents can not amicably create a parenting plan, the issue will be decided in family court. Each parent will be required to present information to the court such as employment status, relationship status, location relative to the child’s school and other important places, any criminal record, accounts from people in their lives, etc., which the court will use to determine who is best fit for custody of the child or children.

There are different child custody arrangements that may be drafted. The most common include: Sole physical custody, where it is determined that only one parent is fit to care for the child; Primary physical custody, where one parent is given custody of the child for the majority of the time, while the other is provided visitation rights; and Joint custody, where each parent is deemed equally fit to raise the child and time is split equally between them.

Halle Berry and Nahla’s father were not able to amicably decide their custody agreement, so the issue was decided by the family court. Both parents are deemed fit for care, but ultimately, the child’s best interest to remain near both parents was the deciding factor.

Read more about child custody matters in FreeAdvice Family Law articles and attorney answers.