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If you are in California and you are separated from your child’s other parent, it can be overwhelming to think about what you need to do in order to get or retain custody of your child. In the Golden State, many divorced or separated parents can share both physical and legal custody, allowing them both to cultivate strong relationships with their children. That is not always the case, however. There are several factors that determine child custody in California, so keep reading to learn about some of them.

Health and Safety of the Child

One of the top criteria in determining where the child will live and who will be making decisions for the child is safety. This includes physical safety, overall health, and emotional and mental safety. For a parent to have physical custody of a child, they must be able to show that they can keep the child safe. This means that they should live in a secure place and be around safe people. They also should have running water, electricity, and the means to provide food and clothing for the child.

If you cannot provide these things, you might not qualify for joint physical custody of your child. This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to see your child at all, but your child might spend more time with his or her other parent, and you might or might not be able to have overnight visits with your child. If circumstances change and you can provide what a child needs to be safe and healthy, you can ask the court to modify the custody orders at that time.

The Stability of Each Parent

Along the same lines, the stability of each parent will need to be assessed. This can mean a few different things. First, if one parent struggles with homelessness or serious health issues causing the parent to be unable to care for the child, they might not be able to have custody of their child, at least not until those issues are rectified. Just as important is mental and behavioral stability.

While issues like well-controlled depression and anxiety will generally not cause custody issues, severe and untreated mental illness could. A child needs to feel safe with their parent, and their parent needs to be able to care for the child adequately. If you are struggling with serious mental illness or health-related issue, it is important to seek help and comply with your treatment to be able to have custody of your child.

Drug or Domestic Violence Issues

If one parent has a history of drug abuse or violence, that could negatively impact their chances of getting or keeping custody of their child. If the parent abused the child in question, then they might be offered supervised visitation. They might have to comply with requirements such as taking parenting classes or going to therapy to see their child.

In some cases, they will not be allowed visitation at all. In domestic violence situations that didn’t involve the child, the court might require anger management classes, parenting classes, or other types of interventions before considering visitation or custody. In some cases, this will disqualify them from having contact with their child.

When it comes to drug or alcohol addiction, going through a rehabilitation program and staying clean for a period of time might be enough to allow for visitation and, if things continue to go well, custody. If a parent cannot or will not go through the program or relapses, however, that could impact whether they can visit with or have custody of their child.

The Child’s Preference

There is no set age in California that will determine when a child can express their preference to a judge when it comes to which parent will have custody of them. In general, younger children might not have their wishes taken into consideration, but older children might. Even a teenager will not necessarily be able to simply make a choice and have it granted, however.

In some cases, a guardian ad litem (GAL) will be assigned. This is a person who will spend time with the child and each parent for the court to determine who should have custody. The GAL might take the child’s preferences into consideration when making their recommendation to the court.

The Best Interest of the Child

All in all, the child’s best interest is going to be the main factor that the California court will use to determine who will have sole, primary, or joint custody of the child. The goal is usually to allow the child the opportunity to have a relationship with each parent, but sometimes that is not possible or beneficial.

In those cases, the judge will use the best interest standard to determine which parent the child will live with and whether visitation (supervised or unsupervised) will be granted. They might take additional factors into consideration when making their decision. These factors might include:

    • Where the parents live. Is one closer to the school than the other? Is it going to be a burden on the child to have overnights on school nights?
    • Whether the parents can co-parent effectively. Has one parent attempted to alienate the child from the other parent? This can lead to the other parent getting custody since manipulation and alienation are not looked upon kindly in family court.
    • Is one parent already the primary caregiver? If one parent stayed home full-time with the child and the other parent worked during most of the child’s waking hours, this could impact the custody decision, particularly if a very young child is involved.
    • Special circumstances. Does the child have special needs that one parent is equipped to handle more than the other parent? In these types of circumstances, the child’s needs will be considered.

Custody battles can be difficult and overwhelming, so it is important to have someone on your side. Contact Family Law Legal Group if you are going through a custody dispute and have not hired a private attorney.

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