If you’re a parent, one of your worst fears is having your children taken away from you. People often worry about losing some or all of their custody during divorce, but the reality is that there are a number of reasons why kids can be separated from their parents – sometimes permanently.
As a family law firm, we at Claery & Hammond, LLP have encountered many situations in which parents were faced with the unthinkable. In this article, we’ll address some of the most common reasons why people lose custody of their kids in California.
Child Abuse & False Allegations of Child Abuse
Someone who is held responsible for any form of child abuse (physical, emotional, and/or psychological) is likely to lose custody of their children. The courts take child abuse extremely seriously and won’t hesitate to strip someone of their custody and/or parental rights if they believe it’s in a child’s best interests. If an existing custody arrangement is in place, this can be modified in a manner to protect children by limiting or removing them from contact with an abusive parent.
The courts also don’t mess around with false allegations of abuse. When a parent or another individual falsely accuses someone of child abuse, it’s regarded as an attempt to disrupt custody proceedings and leverage a favorable decision through deceit. Courts that recognize this behavior may strip the custody and visitation rights of a parent who makes false accusations. The parent may also perjure themselves, potentially leading to worse legal consequences.
A child can be neglected without outright being abused, but the consequences may be just the same. Neglected children are at an increased risk of developing physical and mental problems.
Parents may risk losing custody for the following reasons:
- Failing to provide healthcare
- Failing to ensure a child is well-groomed and clean
- Failing to provide the child with a proper diet
- Failing to get a child to scheduled appointments (doctor visits, school, etc.)
- Failing to properly supervise a child
Parents who engage in domestic violence also risk losing custody of their children, even if a child isn’t directly harmed. When a parent is responsible for domestic violence against their spouse, partner, relatives, and even pets, the courts may determine that removing a child from the offending parent’s custody serves their best interests.
Substance Abuse & Dependency
When a parent has a demonstrable dependency on drugs or alcohol, their children will likely be removed from their custody. Abusing any substance – legal or illegal – presents a risk that a child’s basic needs won’t be adequately met. Children of parents with substance dependencies are much more likely to experience neglect, physical abuse, and exposure to drugs and alcohol.
Parents who wish to contest claims of substance abuse will likely be required to submit to a drug test. Failing a drug test probably won’t automatically result in a loss of custodial rights, but it can play a large role in a judge’s decision. If a parent loses custody rights, a judge might restore them once the parent has completed a substance abuse treatment program and remains sober for a specified period of time.
Issues with Mental Health
Many people suffer from mental illnesses of all varieties and levels of severity. Merely having a mental illness won’t be enough to remove a child from a parent’s custody. It must be proven that the parent’s mental illness or other psychological issues are severe enough to threaten a child, either directly or through neglect.
If mental health concerns are raised, a court may order a parent to complete psychological evaluation, testing, and counseling before determining how to rule in a custody dispute.
Parental Alienation & Failure to Co-Parent
California presumes that children benefit from frequent and continued contact with both of their parents, provided that there are no issues or concerns that should limit such contact. When there is a shared custody or visitation agreement in place, a parent who attempts to harm the child’s relationship with the other parent may be engaging in parental alienation.
Such harm can be caused by physically keeping a child away from their other parent by violating the custody or visitation agreement. Harm is also caused by emotionally manipulating a child into disliking or distrusting the other parent. Parents who engage in parental alienation such as this risk losing custody of children.
While parental alienation has more to do with turning a child against the other parent, failing to co-parent is another issue. Parenting requires both parents to communicate and cooperate to the extent that a child is well-cared for. If one parent fails to tell the other parent information about a child’s education, health, or any other important matters, the court may reduce or take away custody from the withholding parent.
Working Too Much
Parents who work a lot can risk losing custody rights in a dispute. Because the courts believe that parents must be present and active in their children’s lives, parents who work too many hours because of a demanding job, multiple jobs, or even because of military service may have their custodial rights taken away.
Custody will instead be awarded to the parent who has more time to dedicate to their children’s welfare, regardless of income. In this case, the working parent will probably also be ordered to pay child support.
Are You at Risk of Losing Child Custody?
If you’re a parent and believe you may be at risk of losing child custody, reach out to Claery & Hammond, LLP for help. Our attorneys are dedicated legal advocates for our clients and provide them with the personalized legal support they need during difficult times like these.