How Is Child Custody Determined in California?

child with parents fighting in the background

California courts base child custody determinations on the best interests of the child standard. Each parent has equal rights to custody; however, the court will limit or reduce custody time if a parent’s conduct is deemed unfit to raise a child. California also relies on two guiding policies:

  • The court’s primary concern must be the health and safety of the child
  • A child benefits from frequent and sustained contact with both parents

A judge may also take into consideration any factor that might impact a parent’s ability to care for their child. Today, we go over how child custody is determined in California and how the courts figure out what is in the best interest of your child.

Best Interests of the Child

The main factor the court will refer to when determining child custody is what the court considers to be in the best interest of the child. A judge will consider a variety of factors before making such a determination, including but not limited to the following:

  • Child’s health and safety
  • Child’s preferences (given the child is mature enough to do so)
  • Mental and emotional stability of each parent
  • History of domestic abuse
  • Each parent’s criminal history
  • Each parent’s ability to care and provide for the child
  • Which parent is more likely to encourage a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
  • If the child has a sibling (the court prefers to keep siblings together)
  • Which parent can provide stability and continuity

A judge likes to see stability and continuity in a child’s environment. An established routine and pattern of care really caters to a child’s emotional needs and sense of security.

A judge cannot grant custody or unsupervised visitation to a parent who has been convicted of physical or sexual child abuse. Additionally, the law also prohibits a parent who has committed first degree murder of the child’s other parent from custody and unsupervised visitation. Habitual use of alcohol and/or drugs can also impact a child’s health and safety and are therefore factors the court does not like to see when determining child custody.

Child Custody Options

Child custody consists of legal and physical custody. Legal custody refers to which parent will have the authority to make decisions regarding the child’s education, health and wellness, and religion. Physical custody refers to which parent the child will spend most of his/her time with and live with as well. Joint legal custody and joint physical custody are also options and the courts in California prefer these types of arrangements.

Parents are also able to create their own parenting arrangement to define how they would like to divide custody. California law requires that parents attend a mediation session if they are unable to come to an agreement themselves. In the event they still cannot negotiate an agreement, they will have to take their matters to court.

Schedule a Consultation with Our Firm

Child custody matters can quickly become contentious due to the amount of emotion involved. It is never easy to navigate a divorce and adding a child custody dispute to the equation adds additional stress to everyone’s plate. In the event you need assistance determining how to best share custody with your co-parent, a seasoned lawyer from our firm can help. We understand that child custody matters are fraught with emotion; however, with the right legal counsel, they can be resolved.

Contact our firm online or call our office at (949) 577-7935 to secure an initial consultation.