What Are The California Child Custody Rules of the Road?

California child custody has its rules and you better know how to navigate them

In this article, we write about important California child custody laws every parent should know. We know how important your children are to you. It's important that you be educated on what factors the Family Court takes into consideration. Contact us once you've read this article with any questions you may have. Our experienced child custody lawyers are ready to help.

Parents too often don't look before they leap in their custody cases. Whether your custody dispute with the other parent is part of a pending divorce case or a paternity matter, or one of you seeks a modification of an order, you must understand the rules the Family Court follows before you file your paperwork. While the following will give you general knowledge, it is not a substitute for speaking with an experienced California child custody lawyer. This article is not legal advice. It does not apply to your specific situation. It is general information that we believe will be helpful.

Child custody rules require frequent and regular contacts with parents

Generally speaking, parents of minor children have equal rights to custody unless for some reason joint custody would not be in the best interests of the child or children. The State Legislature directs California Family Courts to assure the health, safety and welfare of minor children in custody proceedings. Parents are encouraged to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing. The following statutes set forth these concepts. The following quotes are right out of the California Family Code.

"The mother of an unemancipated minor child and the father, if presumed to be the father under Section 7611, are equally entitled to the custody of the child."

"The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to assure that the health, safety, and welfare of children shall be the court's primary concern in determining the best interest of children when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children."

California Family Courts follows this rule and public policy to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage. Family law judges are trained to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising a child, unless that would be against the child's best interest. But what is best interest and how is it applied?

How does the best interest standard apply to child custody cases?

"Best interest" is a broad standard and includes the health, safety, and welfare of the child, any history of abuse by one parent, the amount and type of contact with both parents and, if it is an issue, the habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances or habitual or continual abuse of alcohol by either parent. Breaking that down, we look at:

  • Health: Of the two parents, is there one who has shown him or herself more willing to care of the child's health needs
  • Safety: Is either parent a danger to the child or has a history of reckless behavior?
  • Welfare: Has either parent engaged in conduct that has interfered with the general welfare and normal upbringing of the child, including issues such as education.
  • Has either parent been abusive, physically or emotionally, to the child
  • Has either parent been away from the child for a lengthy duration, causing only one parent to be the sole caretaker?
  • Does either parent have an addiction to drugs or is either parent an alcoholic?

Our experienced child custody attorneys break down these issues and go through, with your help, the detail of any such history or incidents with the child in determining whether or not joint physical or legal custody is proper or not.

How is status quo relevant to custody cases?

Judges also consider the "status quo" or historical parenting roles established in the past and also past conduct of the parties. In other words, "what has been should continue to be" so long as it is consistent with the child's best interest. This status quo is especially important with younger children because of the need for stability, routine and predictability in a young child's life.

However, temporary relocation from the residence and a temporary status quo established as a result of it should not be considered against the parent that moved. Family Code 3046 speaks to this issue when it states, in part:

"If a party is absent or relocates from the family residence, the court shall not consider the absence or relocation as a factor in determining custody or visitation in either of the following circumstances:

(1) The absence or relocation is of short duration and the court finds that, during the period of absence or relocation, the party has demonstrated an interest in maintaining custody or visitation, the party maintains, or makes reasonable efforts to maintain, regular contact with the child, and the party's behavior demonstrates no intent to abandon the child.

(2) The party is absent or relocates because of an act or acts of actual or threatened domestic or family violence by the other party.

(b) The court may consider attempts by one party to interfere with the other party's regular contact with the child in determining if the party has satisfied the requirements of subdivision (a)…"

There is more to this code section and exceptions. You may read it for more information.

The family law judge cares about your children's best interest, and not what you "want"

One thing that is not the judge's role is to reward or punish parents. In fact, courts don't care all that much about your needs - the focus is on the child, not mom and dad.

Our skilled child custody lawyers will get you started on the right track and, if your case has previously gone astray at the time you consult with us, don't worry! We have helped many parents who came to us in a state of desperation and worry who have finished their custody cases thrilled and grateful for the results they achieved with our representation.

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