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Factors Involved in a California Child Custody Case

How the Decision Gets Made

Child custody is one of the most complex facets of a divorce, as important decisions must be made as to who is responsible for caring for the child, where the child lives, and how much time the other parent gets to spend with the child. Because of the multiple layers involved in these types of decisions, it is important for judges to get the decisions right. California family code dictates that judges ultimately decide custody cases in a way that serves the best interests of the child in question, but there are additional criteria judges can use to aid their custody determinations.

As challenging as custody cases can be, knowing these factors that can influence a judge’s decision can aid you in your case. Here are the factors you should know about when involved in a custody case.

The Child’s Health, Welfare, and Safety

One of the key factors in custody decisions is your child’s overall health, welfare, and safety. For example, if your child has a medical condition that requires specific or frequent care, the court may award custody to the parent who is better equipped to provide that special care.

A judge will also examine t if there has been a history of abuse committed against the child, either by one of the child’s parents, another blood relative of the child, or someone else who was a caretaker for the child for any length of time. Anyone who poses harm or is close to someone who poses harm to the child will have a harder time receiving custody and may have reduced visitation.

The Age of the Child

If your child has reached an age where they are capable of making rational decisions on such a serious matter, then they may share their preference as to which parent they would like to live with. Typically this occurs if the child is at least 14 years old and is willing to provide input to the court about their preference. There are several options for how a child may provide their input without being placed on the witness stand.

The child’s age may be considered if they are younger, as well. For example, if the child is an infant, then they may need their mother more compared to an older child.

Ties Between Parents and Child

Your relationship with your child can have a role in determining custody. If the child has a closer relationship with one parent over the other, then a judge may hesitate to damage that relationship by separating them. If there has been a significant period of time without interaction between a parent and child, the court may order that certain steps be taken to reunify them if that is in the child’s best interest.

Presence of Substance Abuse

If your ex has a history of substance abuse, either illegal drugs or alcohol, then that could influence which parent receives primary custody of the child. However, having a history of substance use does not automatically mean that your ex will not receive custody or visitation. In these types of situations, there must be an independent investigation into your parental history with accompanying documentation from an official, such as a law enforcement agency, a medical facility, or another court. When there is serious concern about a child’s safety in the care of a parent, supervised visitation can be sought to help monitor the interactions.

Non-Specific Factors

California family code states that other factors may affect your ability to care for your child and can play a role in a custody determination. For example, a judge may look at each parent’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing as well as your ability to fulfill parental duties and determine which parent is more fit to take care of a child’s needs.

Serve the Child’s Best Interests

Ultimately, a judge will award custody in a way that will serve a child’s best interests. This is the number one factor and really the standard that must be met in each custody case.

Work With a California Attorney

Because of the emotional ties and the complexities involved in a custody case, it’s important to work with an attorney capable of handling your case and guiding you throughout the process. At TRABOLSI | LEVY | GABBARD LLP, we know how important it is for you to spend time with your child. We will work with you to defend your right to be a parent and to work toward achieving the best possible outcome.


To schedule a consultation, call us at (310) 455-8364 or visit us online and fill out our form.

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