Important Factors That Influence Child Custody Determination in California
Child custody disputes are some of the most challenging legal cases any parent can face. Married parents who decide to divorce will need to resolve child custody through the family court system, and unmarried parents who separate and intend to raise their children separately will need enforceable family court orders for custody as well. Whatever your situation entails, it’s vital to understand the child custody determination process and what a judge must evaluate in making these determinations.
While it’s possible to resolve many divorce-related issues privately through alternative dispute resolution, this does not apply to child custody. The California family court system is legally obligated to protect children’s best interests affected by court rulings. For example, if you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse and co-parent intend to take advantage of mediation to resolve your divorce, you must be prepared to spend time in court to settle child custody.
Some divorcing parents will draw up proposals for parenting plans, outlining the mutually agreed terms that they would like to see approved by a family court judge. Unmarried parents can do the same, but it’s important to remember that while a judge may use these proposals as reference points in their determinations, there is no guarantee the judge will consider a proposal or uphold any part of a parenting plan proposal.
What Does a Judge Evaluate?
Judges responsible for settling custody disputes must evaluate numerous factors to ensure their decision aligns with California state law and the children’s best interests their decision will affect. Some of the factors the judge must evaluate include:
- Each parent’s work schedule. Parents with demanding work schedules may have relied on their co-parents to manage the bulk of childcare duties during their relationship. The judge will want to know how available each parent is to address their child’s daily needs and whether a parent’s work schedule will interfere with their parenting ability.
- The income of each parent. Child custody determinations will also address child support. Both parents are legally obligated to financially support their children. Therefore, the judge will assess each parent’s financial situation, and the child support determination will hinge on the custody rights granted to each of the parents.
- The unique needs of the child. Some children have disabilities, medical conditions, and other special needs that a custodial parent must be prepared to address. Judges settling custody disputes will need to ensure a custodial parent is willing and able to handle these special needs.
- Each parent’s criminal history. If a judge discovers that a parent in a custody dispute has any criminal history, especially one of crimes against children, domestic violence, or violent crimes, they will take these facts into thoughtful consideration and will be unlikely to award significant custody rights to a parent with a criminal record.
- Each parent’s overall health. Judges must ensure that potentially custodial parents are medically and physically able to handle the demands of raising their children. Therefore, the judge will evaluate each parent’s age, health, medical conditions, and disabilities. Judges will also evaluate whether parents have any substance abuse disorders.
- The child’s preference. When a child is old enough to convey their preferences, judges typically take what the child prefers into serious consideration.
Family court judges will also evaluate additional factors unique to each case, such as a parent’s custody obligations from a previous relationship. Ultimately, every child custody case will unfold uniquely, but a few key considerations must be taken into account in every custody dispute.
Understanding Child Custody Terminology
It’s important to note that a child custody determination will resolve two sides of the custody issue: legal custody, the ability to make decisions for a child, and physical custody, which determines a child’s residence. Parents can share joint legal custody, requiring them to consult one another regarding any significant decisions for their children. However, their physical custody and residency terms for the children could be very different.
Physical custody can be arranged in many ways, and most California family court judges prefer arrangements that are minimally disruptive to the child’s lifestyle. For example, if the parents intend to live close to one another, a relatively even split of physical custody is more feasible than if one parent moves a significant distance away from the other. A parent who retains ownership of the marital home is also more likely to receive substantial physical custody rights, allowing the children to remain in a familiar environment.
Physical custody and residency time are arranged at the discretion of the judge. The parents can have a week-by-week rotation in which one parent has their children for one week, and then the children spend the next week with the other parent. It’s also possible to divide residency time more precisely by dividing each week into chunks of time spent with each parent. Some parents may only qualify for temporary residency. Their children may spend one or two weeks out of the year living with them, visiting them for specific holidays, or otherwise only having limited time with their children.
Find Legal Guidance You Can Trust
Ultimately, a child custody determination could be one of a parent’s most emotionally taxing experiences. It can feel incredibly disempowering to know that the final say regarding custody is entirely out of their hands. However, the right attorney can be an invaluable asset during any child custody dispute, increasing their client’s chances of securing the custody terms they prefer. Additionally, a child custody lawyer can also be helpful if a parent must petition to have a custody order changed after finalization in light of unpredictable life events.
Bickford, Blado & Botros has years of experience assisting California clients with difficult custody cases. We understand the challenges parents face in these disputes and the stress and uncertainty that any child custody case can impose. If you are preparing to divorce, or if you will need to settle child custody with your co-parent as a standalone family court issue, we can help. Contact Bickford, Blado & Botros today to schedule a consultation with our team and learn more about the legal services we offer for California child custody cases.
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