5 Factors That Affect Child Custody Decisions
Child custody cases are some of the most emotional and hard-fought battles in family court. In most cases, each parent believes they are doing what’s best for the child. But, unfortunately, in a few cases, children are used as leverage and weapons by a vindictive spouse.
Family courts in California always place the child’s best interest first when determining custody issues. The judge considers factors set out in the California Family Code to determine what type of custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest.
If possible, the courts prefer to award joint custody. Children typically benefit from having two parents play a significant role in their upbringing. Therefore, judges encourage parents to work together to develop a parenting plan that includes joint custody.
Five Factors That Impact a Judge’s Decision Regarding Custody
A judge may consider any relevant factor that directly relates to custody and the child’s best interest. Five factors that have a significant impact on a custody case are:
1. Domestic Abuse and Violence
If a parent has a history of domestic abuse or violence, a judge may grant sole custody to the other parent. Depending on the situation, the judge may also grant supervised or restricted visitation for the parent accused of domestic abuse. The same is true with allegations of sexual abuse or neglect of a child.
If your ex-partner accuses you of domestic violence or abuse, seek legal counsel immediately. Your parental rights could be negatively impacted by these allegations, even if the allegations are false. Do not assume that justice will prevail in court. Instead, hire a lawyer to fight for your parental rights.
2. Ability to Provide for the Child
Providing for a child means that a parent can provide a clean, safe home for the child. The parent understands the child’s needs and is willing and able to meet those needs. This means ensuring that the child goes to school, bathes, and develops good habits, among other things.
Providing for the child may also mean being willing to foster a parental relationship with the other parent. Providing for a child and the ability to pay child support are two different things. Child support obligations are decided based on the California child support guidelines.
3. Stability of the Home
A judge will take into account the child’s present home situation. For example, does the child have a good routine, a regular schedule, and a stable home environment?
When parents divorce, a child may feel anxious and frightened. Disrupting a child’s schedule or moving the child into a new home can increase the child’s fears and lead to emotional problems.
Therefore, a judge may seek to keep children in a home they are familiar with—if the home is stable. Likewise, the judge may consider whether moving the child may be too disruptive to the child’s schedule, school, extracurricular activities, and social engagements.
4. Other People in the Home
Other individuals living in the home can also have an impact on custody cases. If the child is close to step-siblings or other family members, removing the child from home could be emotionally devastating. It may be best to leave the child in the home to preserve those close bonds while the child is processing the divorce.
Likewise, suppose a child will be moving to a home where they will live with a step-family or other adults. In that case, a close inspection of those individuals is required to ensure the child’s safety and emotional wellbeing. It might not be in the child’s best interest to move into a home with individuals the child doesn’t know or who may have a history of violence or substance abuse.
5. The Child’s Preference
Children may voice an opinion about which parent they wish to live with after the legal separation or divorce. The judge may consider the child’s wishes, depending on the child’s age and maturity level.
However, judges understand that young children, and even older children, can be victims of parental alienation and manipulation. For example, a parent may promise a child things to get the child to say they want to live with the parent. A parent may also lie to children to drive a wedge between the child and the other parent.
Seek Legal Advice Immediately About Custody Matters
Your child’s wellbeing and future are at stake during a custody battle. If you contemplate leaving your spouse or partner, it is wise to seek legal advice from an experienced Los Angeles child custody lawyer before doing anything. Knowing your legal rights and the steps to take to protect yourself and your child can help you obtain the outcome you desire in a divorce and custody case.