How California Courts Determine Child Custody

How California Courts Determine Child Custody

Matters of child custody, whether stemming from divorce, paternity disputes, or government intervention, are some of the most emotionally and legally challenging decisions faced by California’s courts. Although California law provides a framework by which courts must decide what is in the “best interest of the child,” judges are given great discretion in making this determination.

Types of Child Custody and Visitation

In California, there are two different types of child custody: (1) Legal custody, which is required to make important decisions on behalf of a child and (2) physical custody, which determines where the child lives and with whom. Legal custody can be joint, which means it is shared between both parents, or sole, where only one parent or parental figure has the right to make decisions on behalf of the child. Further, physical custody can be joint, sole, or primary. Joint physical custody means that the child lives with both parents equally. Sole means that the child lives with only one parent, and primary means that the child lives with one parent most of the time but typically visits the other parent.

California Child Custody Determining Factors

If a custody dispute is brought before California’s courts, the judge is obligated to make a custody determination based on what he or she believes is in the best interest of the child. Under California law, however, the Court must consider the following “best interest” factors in making that determination:

  • The age of the child;
  • The child’s health;
  • The strength or weakness of the child’s emotional ties with the parents;
  • The parents’ ability to care for the child;
  • Any history of family violence or substance abuse, and
  • The child’s ties to his or her school, home, and the community.

Appointment of Minors Counsel  

Generally, experienced California family law attorneys will gather information relevant to each factor and present it to the Court. If the parents cannot come to a mutual agreement and the factors do not weigh in favor of a certain custody determination, the Court may appoint minors counsel to represent the interests of the child in the proceeding. In appointing minors counsel, the judge can take into consideration whether the child is a victim of abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse within the household, or suffers from mental health, medical, or educational issues (among other factors).

Contact an Experienced California Family Law Firm for More Information

Unlike property or monetary disputes, child custody determinations can have a lasting impact on the life of a child and his or her parents. California child custody litigation should not be undertaken lightly, and it is essential you have an experienced California family law attorney on your side. The family law attorneys at Razai & Nefulda, APC exclusively focus on providing family law services throughout Orange and Los Angeles Counties. If you are involved in a child custody dispute or simply require additional information, contact them today for a confidential, free consultation at 714-663-9900.