How is Child Custody Determined in California?

Disputes regarding child custody are often the most stressful and most contentious aspect of a divorce. Each of the divorcing parents may be equally convinced that it will be in the child’s best interest if they are granted the custody rights. It is likely, however, that the divorcing parents already differ greatly with regards to what constitutes the child’s best interest, as well as how he or she should be raised.

Ultimately, however, the decision which parent will be granted child custody in a divorce lies with the court. In order to make the best decision possible and ensure that a child’s best interest is really the priority, a judge will take into consideration a variety of factors. Even though a child’s welfare is always the most important one, different states have slightly different guidelines that direct a judge’s decision-making process with regards to granting child custody. In this blog, we will review the laws and regulations that govern child custody decisions in California.

Basic Principles

The law distinguishes two basic kinds of custody – legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the ability to make important decisions related to a child’s life with regards to, for example, health or education. Physical custody means which parent a child will live with. Both legal and physical custody can be granted to both parents or to one parent only. If both parents have legal custody over a child, both will have a say in decisions relating to a child’s welfare. If both parents have physical custody of a child, both will be able to spend substantial and equal time with the child. Sole physical custody means that a child will live with one parent and the other will be granted visitation rights with specifically stated time intervals and time periods.

With regards to sole custody, a judge in California must not take a parent’s gender as a decisive factor. Rather, a judge’s primary concern will be the child’s health, safety, and welfare.

Child’s Health and Safety

A judge will strive to grant custody rights to a parent who will take the best care of a child’s physical, financial, and emotional needs. Considering a child’s long-term welfare, a judge will not grant custody rights to a parent who habitually and continually abuses alcohol or drugs. If a parent has been convicted of physical or sexual abuse or first-degree murder, it will usually preclude him or her from obtaining both custody and unsupervised visitation rights. Additionally, even if a parent hasn’t been convicted but it can be proven that he or she has abused his or her partner or children in the past, a judge may decide to considerably limit his or her custody and visitation rights.

Child’s Age

If a child is of sufficient age and demonstrates a good capacity to reason, a judge may take into consideration his or her wishes in the final decision. Additionally, if a child is 14 years old and wants to live with one parent over the other, a judge may allow it and take his or her desires into account.

Child’s Relationship with Both Parents

Even if child custody rights are given only to one parent, a child’s welfare will usually require that he or she has a positive, meaningful relationship with the other parent. That’s why if a judge decides to grant sole custody, they will take into consideration which parent is more likely to encourage such a relationship with the non-custodial parent.

Facing a Child Custody Battle? Contact the Grey Legal Group

Even though we encourage divorcing parents to resolve child custody disputes in an amicable way and out of the court, we understand that this may not always be possible. If you are facing a child custody issue that may need to be settled via litigation, do not hesitate to contact us. At the Grey Legal Group, you can count on our thorough, compassionate, and family-oriented approach to your legal problems.

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The Grey Legal Group, APC

At The Grey Legal Group, we take pride in getting to know our clients personally. Whether you’re going through a divorce, child custody issues, or problems enforcing divorce orders, you can feel confident in our knowledgeable, hands-on approach.

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