Below are some frequently asked questions and answers about child custody
in California. The answers are meant to help you gain a basic understanding
of how child custody works in California, but keep in mind that the details
of each case differ. The factors in your particular situation may be different
than somebody else’s, so the potential outcomes are fact-specific
as is typical in child custody cases.
For more information about California’s child custody laws, we invite
you to contact our firm to set up a free initial consultation with a child
custody attorney. In the meantime, read on to get some valuable information
on California’s child custody laws.
1. Can parents decide on child custody?
If the parents are on friendly terms and they can come up with a child
custody agreement, they can usually come up with their own arrangement,
but a judge will have to look it over before it is made into an official
2. What if we can’t agree on custody?
If the parents cannot agree on a child custody arrangement, the judge will
have to decide for them based on the best interests of the child doctrine.
In this situation, the judge will consider a number of factors, such as
the parents’ wishes, the child’s wishes, each parent’s
financial ability to support their child, any history of domestic violence, etc.
3. Can a parent’s mental illness impact child custody?
It is possible, but it’s not absolute. If a parent has a severe mental
illness that affects their ability to take care of their children, it
can present a problem. On the other hand, if the parent is receiving treatment
and under the care of a doctor, and the mental illness is not affecting
their parenting abilities, it may not be an issue at all.
4. At what age can a child choose which parent to live with?
It is a common misconception that once children reach the magic age of
12, 13, or 14, that they can choose which parent to live with, but this
just isn’t the case. Only a judge has the power to make custody
decisions. However, judges are interested in hearing about children’s
preferences, even if they are younger than 12-years-old.
Judges will definitely give more weight to the wishes of a mature child,
or an older child, but at the same time judges are aware that children
are easily manipulated by adults, so they must evaluate the whole situation,
not just the child’s wishes, before making a decision about custody.
5. Is it okay to move out if I want to fight for custody?
You may feel like living under the same roof of your spouse has become
unbearable, but if you want to fight for custody and you foresee a child
custody battle, you should NOT move out of the family home until you:
1) seek an attorney’s advice, and 2) have secured temporary child
custody orders in place before you even think of packing your bags.
Why? Because, if you’re arguing that you’re the “better”
parent, moving out sends a powerful message to the court that your spouse
is suitable by your standards to care for your children most of the time.
Plus, once you have a status quo established, it can be difficult to change it.
6. Can a parent lose custody because of an affair?
Unless the parent did something extremely neglectful, like leave their
seven-year-old home alone so they could go out with their paramour, this
is highly unlikely. In most California divorce cases, cheating will not
usually impact child custody unless it directly affected the children’s
safety, physical or emotional well-being.
7. Can I ask for joint custody?
The first place to start is to run it by your spouse. If he or she is on
board, you can create a Parenting Plan that involves a joint custody arrangement.
If your spouse is fighting you on this, you can certainly ask the court
for joint custody, even if you’re a father or have spent less time
raising the kids.
As a general rule, the courts lean toward joint custody arrangements because
they benefit children the most. This arrangement works best when parents
can live close to each other so school pick-ups and drop-offs are convenient.
Note: If joint custody is ordered, it does not necessarily mean that
no child support will be paid. Typically, the parent who earns more still may have to pay some child
support to the lower-earning parent. They may also have to pay for health
insurance and a portion of the job-related childcare expenses.
8. What if a parent is abusing a child?
If a parent has been convicted of domestic violence, it can definitely
impact child custody. An abusive parent may be ordered to move out of
the family home, pay child support, and only see their children during
supervised visits. If the abuse was sexual, or if the abuse was severe,
the abusive parent could lose their parental rights.
However, not all abusive parents
lose their parental rights. Sometimes, they are awarded unsupervised parenting time after they follow
the court’s orders; for example, they complete a one-year batterer’s
intervention program, they follow the conditions in their
domestic violence restraining order, they follow the terms of their probation or parole, and they complete
substance abuse classes (if court-ordered).
To learn more about domestic violence and child custody, click