Child custody is a family law matter that commonly arises during a divorce, but it can affect parents who had a child outside of a marriage as well. If you’re a parent involved in a child custody dispute, you may be totally unfamiliar with some of the legal concepts you’re about to face. Rest assured that you’re not alone – many parents walk into custody disputes never dreaming that they would be in such a situation.
5 Myths about Child Custody & Why They’re Wrong
As with most things, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about child custody that people pick up throughout their lives from family members or friends, or by reading less credible sources on the Internet. In this blog, we’ll do our best to identify some of the most common myths about child custody, explain why they’re incorrect, and provide you with more useful information.
You should not, however, consider the information in this blog to be interpreted as legal advice. For specific advice that takes your unique situation into account, it’s always best to directly consult with an attorney who can assist you. We at Claery & Hammond, LLP are happy to help prospective clients, so consider taking advantage of our free initial consultation to learn more about our services.
Myth 1. Child Custody Is Meant to Reward or Punish Parents
A lot of people erroneously believe that child custody orders are built with rewarding or punishing the parents in mind. While it can feel like that’s the case for a parent who thinks they should have received more custody or visitation with their kids, the court is basing its decision on what’s in the child’s best interest – not the parent’s
In fact, most family law matters that involve children will use the child’s best interest as the standard for weighing decisions. This simply means the judge is taking a child’s basic needs into account and making a decision about what kind of arrangement will be most beneficial to the child. This might not make things feel any easier, but it should assuage concerns that the court or a judge is simply out to punish a litigant involved in a custody dispute.
Myth 2. Mothers Always Get More Custody Than Fathers
A very persistent myth about child custody is that mothers will always get more custody than fathers. There is no law in California that makes this so, but it may appear that way because a lot of women in heterosexual relationships are still their children’s primary caregivers.
When the court is taking the child’s best interests into account, it will assess who was the child’s primary caregiver before the custody dispute. If the mother contributed more than 50% to the child’s care, then she may be favored for more custody as the primary caregiver. There is absolutely nothing in the law that says a man can’t be a primary caregiver, so men can end up with more custody in the same manner.
Of course, other factors such as the child’s bond with each parent, their work schedules, and where they live will also factor into how custody is assigned, so being a primary caregiver isn’t everything. The gender of each parent, though, is absolutely irrelevant.
Myth 3. Kids Can Decide Who They Want to Live With
Parents may fear custody disputes because they worry about how their child’s preference for living with them or the other parent will be taken into account. Truth be told, the court may take a child’s preference into account if they are younger than 14, but it is by no means obligatory that a judge does so or complies with this preference. He or she must still decide based upon the child’s best interest.
When children are 14 years old or older, California law requires the court to listen to the teenager if he or she wishes to express a preference. Again, however, the court will decide what is in their best interest: Although the child has a right to have their voice heard in court, a judge is still not obligated to comply with this preference.
Myth 4. There Are No Real Consequences for Violating Custody Orders
Contrary to what some may believe, there are consequences for violating child custody orders and some of them are harsh. Violating another parent’s legal and/or physical custody rights, including parenting time, can result in a modification of the child support order that limits the offending parent’s custody or visitation. In extreme cases, custody can even be taken away.
Also, because violating a child custody order is no different than violating any other court order, the offending parent can even be held criminally liable for contempt of court. This may be penalized with fines, community service, or even a stint in jail.
Myth 5. A Lawyer Can’t Help You Any More Than You Can Help Yourself
Our final myth is another big one to consider. You don’t necessarily need a lawyer to represent you in a child custody dispute, but you can put yourself at a severe disadvantage if you don’t get legal assistance.
Lawyers have experience and skills that most people don’t when it comes to researching and developing legal arguments that assert their client’s interests and rights in court. You should always consider getting legal assistance from an attorney when you are faced with any legal dispute – especially those that concern your children and other family law matters.