Child custody is one of the biggest issues in divorce cases where any children are involved. A decision must be made as to who will care for the child and with whom the child will live with, as well as other related questions involving visitation rights. Primary child custody factors in California include the child's best interests and the custodial parent's ability to care for the child. See California Child Custody Laws for a general breakdown of the law.
Children's Best Interests Come First
Courts in California are always most concerned with what is in the best interests of the child. Divorces or other such fractures in family life can take a large toll on a child. The child's home and family circumstances can have a serious effect on the child's life.
Therefore, child custody rulings are considered very carefully by the courts and many factors and circumstances are taken into account prior to making a decision.
Child Custody Factors in California
There are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Legal custody deals with the ability to make important decisions regarding the child's health, welfare and education. Physical custody deals with the child physically living with or staying with the parent. Some of the primary factors that courts will evaluate in deciding a custody issue are the following:
- The age of the child;
- The health of the child;
- The emotional ties between either parent and the child;
- The ability of the parents to care for the child (emotionally, physically or financially);
- Any history of family violence and/or substance abuse; and
- The child's ties to school, home, and/or their community.
California courts do not automatically award custody to either the father or mother for any reason. For example, just because the child is a 16 year old female, the court will not automatically assume that the best person to be awarded custody would naturally be her mother. Also, marital status, physical disability, lifestyle, sexual orientation and religion are not bases for custody being awarded. Courts take into account all factors and look at the big picture when addressing the child's best interests.
For more information, see California Child Custody Procedure and Visitation Rights in California.
Third Party Custody
If giving custody to either of the child's parents would somehow be harmful to the child, either emotionally or physically, the court does have the power to appoint guardianship custody to someone else entirely. In this case, someone who wants to be the child's guardian must take the step to ask for custody based on the fact that the parents cannot care for the child or would be deficient in doing so.
If the court agrees and finds that this arrangement would be in the child's best interests, the guardian may be awarded physical and legal custody of the child. For example, a child's grandparent may request to be the child's guardian, or it may be a family friend or other relative.
Contact a California child custody lawyer if you have additional questions or require counsel.