Overview of California Child Custody Laws
If you are considering filing for divorce, or are in the process of getting divorced, and you have one or more children with your spouse, a key issue that will need to be resolved is custody of your children. This issue is typically one of the most emotionally-charged and contentious matters that are litigated during a divorce. As a result, you should have a skilled and experienced Novato divorce attorney to help guide you through this process and advocate for you.
Best Interest of Your Child, or Children, is Paramount
When it comes to child custody, California judges typically analyze custody based on the best interests of your child, or children. In most cases, you and your spouse will begin with equal rights on the issue of custody. A judge will then apply an array of factors to assess how custody should be allocated.
When assessing the best interests of your child, or children, California judges adhere to two guiding principles – (i) the health, safety, and welfare of your children and (ii) there is a cognizable benefit to your children engaging in frequent and continued contact with both you and your spouse.
Within these two overarching principle, a judge will consider an array of factors. For example, a judge often prefers to make a decision where the child will be able to maintain stability and continuity in their home environment, including maintaining a level care and emotional bonds with a primary caretaker.
In addition, California judges consider which parent is more likely to encourage a positive, healthy relationship between the child and the other parent.
Judges will also do all they can to keep siblings together, with the exemption of certain extraordinary circumstances.
Preference of Child May Be Considered
Depending on the age of your child, a judge can consider their preference on which parent they want to live with on a regular basis. You may be asking, “How old does my child need to be to make this decision?” Well, California law does not specify any specific age, but the older and more mature a child is, the more likely it is a judge will give weight to the child’s preferences.
Factors That Can Result in the Loss of Custody
There are certain factors that will likely lead a judge not to award custody and/or visitation rights to a spouse. These factors include:
- Evidence of you of your spouse engaging in habitual use of alcohol or illegal narcotics.
- California law expressly prohibits judges from granting any form of custody to a parent who was convicted of committing rape, sexual abuse, and/or first degree murder
When it comes to child custody, it is important to understand that “custody” is multifaceted. For example, custody consists of both legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is related to your ability to participate in key decisions that will impact your child’s health, welfare, education, and overall development. In contrast, physical custody is related to your child’s physical presence with you or your spouse. If you hear the term “joint physical custody” it basically means that each parent will receive significant periods of physical custody of their child, or children. Receiving physical custody does not necessarily equate to legal custody and vice versa.
In most cases, California judges prefer to award joint physical custody and joint legal custody when both parents are in agreement. If custody is contentious, then there is then no starting presumption for or against either parent when it comes to joint custody.
You Have a Say in How Custody Will Be Decided
It is important to know that the decision of custody is not made solely by a judge. You and your spouse have the chance to negotiate an amicable parenting arrangement when it comes to both legal and physical custody. If you can reach an agreement, it will then be submitted to a judge for approval. If you are unable to reach an agreement with your spouse, a judge will then be tasked with deciding child custody.
Involved in a Custody Dispute with Your Spouse?
If you are contemplating filing for divorce, or are in the process of getting divorced, and need help assessing your rights pertaining to child custody, Castro Law Offices is ready and able to help. We are a premier law firm specializing divorce, child custody, and all other issues concerning California family law. Castro Law Offices is based in Novato, California, but is ready and able to provide legal services and advice to clients in and around Marin County including Novato, San Rafael, Greenbrae, San Anselmo, Fairfax, Sausalito, Larkspur, West Marin, Ross, Mill Valley and Corte Madera. Contact Castro Law Offices today to schedule a confidential consultation.