Although child custody law in California is more complex than you might imagine, it is guided by a few foundational principles. Foremost among these is “the best interests of the child” that supersedes either parent’s right to authority over or contact with the child, should these values ever conflict with each other.
“The Best Interests of the Child”
The best interests of the child does not necessarily coincide with the child’s own preferences, although these can be taken into account if the child is considered old enough and mature enough to render his preferences worthy of consideration. On the other hand, “I wanna live with Daddy because he serves me ice cream for breakfast” could have the opposite of the intended effect.
The best interests of the child breaks down into two sub-principles:
The health, safety, and welfare of the child takes precedence over either parent’s preferences; and
California law presumes that the child’s best interests are best served when the child benefits from frequent and continued contact with both parents (contrary to the popular notion that the mother is always favored).
Physical Custody vs. Legal Custody
“Custody” comes in two forms, and enjoying one form of custody does not necessarily mean enjoying the other.
“Physical custody” means the child’s living arrangements. All other things being equal, parents share physical custody – one parent may keep the child during the week, for example, while weekends may be reserved for the other parent.
“Legal custody” means the authority to make life decisions for the child – where he will go to school, for example, or what his religious upbringing will be.
Factors That Can Tip the Scales
The following are a few of the circumstances that can tip the scales of justice in favor of one parent at the expense of the other:
The child was conceived when the father raped the mother.
One parent has been convicted of child abuse or domestic abuse.
One parent has been credibly accused of child abuse (by child protection authorities, for example), even if no conviction resulted.
One parent has falsely accused the other parent of child abuse or other dangerous behavior (narcotics abuse, for example) to gain advantage in a custody proceeding.
One parent commits other reprehensible behavior that might adversely affect the child’s well-being (encouraging the child to smoke or take drugs, for example).
If any of these factors are present, a judge may deny custody to one parent altogether or limit the offending parent’s rights to supervised visitation only. In extreme cases, procedures may be undertaken to deprive the offending parent of all parental rights, including even the right to know of the child’s whereabouts.
Consensual Custody Arrangements and Mediated Solutions
Absent unusual or dangerous circumstances, courts encourage parents to come to voluntary agreements on legal and physical custody. If such an agreement cannot be reached, mediation is required. Only when mediation fails can litigation be resorted to.
Decisive Action Can Make a Difference
At CKB Vienna LLP, we can help you reach an amicable resolution to child custody issues. If necessary, however, we can initiate litigation to resolve intractable disputes. Telephone us at 909-980-1040 or fill out our contact form to learn how we can best assist you in your child custody dispute. We serve clients from all over Rancho Cucamonga, including Alta Loma, Fontana, Chino Hills, Claremont, and elsewhere in the area.