Family Law

How Does the Court Determine Child Custody in California?

When parents decide to separate or divorce, the matter of child custody becomes a critical issue to resolve. In the state of California, like elsewhere, the court's guiding star is the child's best interest. Understanding how judges determine child custody can help parents know what to expect and how to prepare for the legal process.

The Best Interest of the Child

In California, child custody determinations are based on what the court deems is in the child's best interest. Several factors are taken into consideration, including, but not limited to:

  • The health, safety, and welfare of the child,
  • Any history of abuse by one parent against any related child, the other parent, or a parent, current spouse, or cohabitant,
  • The nature and amount of contact with both parents,
  • The habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances or alcohol by either parent.

The law does not give preference to either the mother or father. Instead, it examines each parent's contribution to the child's life.

Types of Custody in California

A clear understanding of custody types is crucial when discussing child custody laws in California. There are two main types:

  • Legal Custody: The right and responsibility to make decisions about the child's upbringing, education, health care, and religious instruction.
  • Physical Custody: Relates to with whom the child will live.

Both custody types can be joint (shared by both parents) or sole (awarded to one parent).

Custody Evaluations

California courts can order a child custody evaluation, sometimes called a "730 Evaluation" (referencing Evidence Code 730, which allows the court to appoint an expert to investigate and submit a report on a pending matter before the court). This is a detailed analysis conducted by a neutral third-party professional, typically when the parents cannot agree on custody or visitation.

Consideration of the Child's Wishes

The court may also consider the child's wishes if they are of sufficient age and capacity to form an intelligent preference regarding custody or visitation. However, there is no set age at which a child's preference will be honored. Each case is evaluated individually.

Court-Ordered Mediation

Before a contested custody hearing, most California courts require the parents to attend court-ordered mediation. Primarily, the goal is to reduce anger and encourage agreements in the child's best interests.

Parental Conduct

California courts also look at each parent's conduct, including any evidence of domestic violence, substance abuse, or neglect. These characteristics can significantly affect custody and visitation arrangements.

Supervised Visitation or No Visitation

In cases where the court finds that it's not in the child's best interest to spend time with a parent, it may order supervised visitation or, in extreme cases, no visitation at all.

San Diego Child Custody Lawyer

If you're navigating the complexities of child custody in California and need expert legal guidance, Family Law San Diego is here to support you. Our experienced attorneys understand the nuances of family law and are committed to helping you achieve an outcome that serves the best interest of your child. Located in La Mesa, CA, we're well-versed in local laws and can provide the personalized assistance you need. Contact us today at (619) 577-4900 to discuss your case and explore how we can assist you in this critical time.