To often individuals facing divorce with children think about child custody as a weapon against the other parent. Of course, child custody will affect child support, so there is some tactical advantage to greater timeshare in many cases, but the emotional thinking of these individuals is that the other parent did something bad, so the court should award sole custody to me to punish them. Now, it’s not typical for the family court to award sole custody in any case – so in many consultations that notion must be quickly addressed and dispelled. Once the sole custody prospect is downplayed, the next issue to address is how California family courts make child custody determinations. Hint – it’s not driven by punishing the other parent.
The Best Interests of The Children
The standard used by the court in determining child custody is the Best Interests of the Children as codified in Family Code 3020. That statute spells out several factors the court must evaluate in determining which custody situation best satisfies the children’s best interests, but chief among those is the situation that best protects the children’s health, safety, and welfare. For instance, if the father is an alcoholic who is often intoxicated half the day, it’s more likely that custody awarded to the mother will best satisfy the children’s health, safety, and welfare.
Frequent and Continuing Contact With Both Parents
One factor in the best interests of the children standard that drives custody determinations away from sole custody and toward joint or at least supervised visitation is found in Family Code 3020(b): “The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage…“. In essence, even if one parent is not best suited to have primary custody at a moment in time, it’s often still in the child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents.
Custody Issues Don’t Go Away After Divorce
Child custody is an issue until the children reach the age of 18. Simply put, even though custody is an issue in divorce, a parent can always come back later to seek modification of child custody. Accordingly, while parents may fight like cats and dogs during divorce over child custody, that order won’t necessarily remain constant forever. Things change, and some parents seek modification of the custody order down the road.