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California Courts: How Custody Is Determined

Divorce can be emotionally devastating for the couples going through it, but it is often far harder on any minor children involved. The welfare of minors can be a major point of contention in these cases, with couples vying for full or partial custody, and courts working to ensure that the best interests of minors are upheld.

Custody cases in california

In the state of California, each custody hearing is conducted on a case by case basis with the court system accounting for the preferences of children who are 12 and older, parental histories of drug use or domestic violence, and the mental and emotional stability of all parties involved, among other factors.

If you are dealing with divorce, these are the aspects that will influence the final decision regarding the custody of your children.

Honoring the Rights and Well-Being of Minor Children

When properly cared for and supervised, children have the right to spend time with each of their parents. This is one of the guiding principles for determining child custody cases. While one or more parties may be reticent to allow minor children to spend time with their ex, reasonable justification must be offered.

The goal of child custody hearings in California is to ensure that children are being placed in the best living environment, and that time is reasonably shared among both parents according to their proven abilities. Sadly, when custody is determined, the effort to place a child in the best possible living environment sometimes means giving one parent sole custody, even when both parties are eager to act as sole or joint custodian.

Factors Considered When Determining Custody

There are many factors that the court considers when determining which home will prove healthiest and most stable for a minor child. These include:

Parents’ criminal histories
The mental health backgrounds of both parties
How each party intends to balance time at work and parenting responsibilities
Who the child (if 12 and over) prefers to live with
Each party’s history of parenting the minor child in question

While a parent may perform favorably in one area, this does not necessarily mean that they’re able to offer the best living environment. For instance, a parent who earns far higher wages than the other parent may be able to provide greater financial stability. However, if they are always working and rarely at home, or if they do not have a history of spending significant, quality time with the child, the party with the lesser income may be considered the more beneficial choice.

Moreover, a higher wage earner or even someone who has more time to spend at home might not be the ideal person to award primary custody to if this same individual has a lengthy criminal history or there is ample evidence of mental or emotional instability.

Why Older Children Have the Ability to State Their Preferences

At the age of 12, California considers minor children to be mature enough to state their preferences on which parent they’d like to live with. It is believed that children at this age are less likely to be manipulated by parents, and more likely to make choices that align with their best interests.

However, just because a child prefers to live with one parent over the other, this does not mean that this is how the courts will rule. The preferences of minor children who are 12 and older are but one factor among many that get considered before custody rulings are made.

Different Options in the Legal Custody of Minor Children in California

Parents can be awarded either joint or sole custody. Joint custody is sometimes referred to as shared custody. This is usually awarded when both parents are able to show competency in parenting, such that living in either or both homes can be beneficial to minor children, and having both parents be active and contributing members in their lives represents minors’ best interests.

Sole custody is usually only awarded when there are clear reasons for having a child reside in only one home. This may be because:
The other party is not ready or willing to parent effectively
The other party has been determined to be unsafe
Special needs of the child make splitting time between two households undesirable or unhealthy

With sole custody, the custodial parent maintains the exclusive right and responsibility of making all choices concerning the minor child’s education, health, and overall welfare.

Conversely, in joint custody agreements, each party maintains this right and responsibility, and both can work together in planning and making important decisions. However, in joint custody agreements, neither party is required to agree with the other at any time, and each parent is free to make their own decisions.

Physical Custody

While legal custody determines who will make decisions concerning the welfare and care of minor children, physical custody determines where children will live. The options for physical custody include:

Joint custody
Sole custody
Primary custody

With joint custody, children live with both parents and can split their time between households according to flexible or established agreements. With sole custody, the minor child lives with only one parent and does not often visit the other. With primary custody, the child will live in the home of one parent for the majority of the time and visit the other.

Given that it’s difficult for both children and their parents to split physical custody equally, minor children will usually have more time with one parent than when joint custody is awarded.

Child custody agreements are always determined with the best interests of minor children in mind. Multiple factors are considered in these cases, including the preferences of children age 12 and older. Although both parents have a right to spend time with their children, the courts analyze the details of each case to ensure that minors are being placed in the best possible living environments.

Do you require additional information? Check out this custody guide to learn more about what California child custody laws imply.

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