When a couple decides to end their marriage, having to go through the process of untangling their lives in court can be a very painful, frustrating, and emotionally draining. But, when the couple has children and needs to decide how the custody arrangement for those children will work, it can take the anxiety to a whole new level. The child custody laws in California are very clear and it is important for any parent going through a child custody struggle to know these laws and understand their rights.

Child Custody Laws in California

The child custody laws in California are designed to provide the best possible home and living situation for the children involved in the divorce and help to keep their best interests at the top of the propriety list. Like many other states, California family courts believe that children of a divorcing family always do best when both parents are involved in their lives and can share the responsibilities of raising and caring for the children. Should the parents no be able to co-parent the children and work a joint custody situation, the court system will decide the arrangement that best suites the children’s needs.

Types of Child Custody in California

As mentioned, the state of California and many other states prefer to grant parents joint custody of children to help keep both parents involved in their children’s lives. For California, joint custody could potentially have many definitions – joint physical custody where the parents share having physical time with the children; joint legal custody where both parents have a legal right to collaborate on decisions about their children’s upbringing; joint physical and legal custody, which is a combination of both of the above mentioned arrangements. When making a decision on join custody, judges will consider:

  • Whether or not the parents have already agreed to a joint custody situation
  • How close the parents live or plan to live to one another to make transporting the children between homes feasible
  • The parents willingness to work together, communicate, and compromise when it comes to the upbringing of their children and making important decisions
  • Both of the parents willingness to foster a positive, loving relationship between the children and the other parent
  • Whether or not either parent has any history of abuse (including child and spousal abuse) that could make a joint custody situation unsafe for the children

What Determines Child Custody in California

Child custody cases can be just as difficult for family court judges as they are for the parents and children involved. Should joint custody not be an option, a California judge will need to decide which parent will have primary physical custody of the children and how much, if any, visitation time the other parent will receive. When making this determination, the court will examine both parents thoroughly, including their moral character and carefulness, to make the best possible decision for the children.

Including the parents general characteristics and how they relate to raising children, the family court judge will also take a hard look at a number of other factors to help determine the best possible living situation for the children. Some of the additional areas of interest examined will include:

  • The parent’s financial and physical ability to provide shelter, food and clothing for the children
  • The parent’s commitment to the children’s education and providing a proper learning environment
  • The parent’s ability to make important decisions regarding the children’s health, education, community, and peer relationships and general well-being
  • The parent’s willingness to following the child custody arrangement and help to foster a positive relationship between the children and the other parent

When the state of California is left to make a decision in a custody case, they will always work to provide an arrangement that is beneficial for the children involved in the case – this often means that at least one, if not both, parents do not receive the arrangement they want. Because of this, family court judges will encourage couples to develop a joint custody parenting plan outside of the court room that is based on their children’s needs as well as their desires as a parent to spend time with the children.

Child Custody Modification in California

Whether the parents make a parenting plan on their own or have the court make a decision for them, there will likely come a time when that arrangement is no longer feasible or one parent wants to make a change to that plan. When that time comes, the parent who is requesting the change will need to submit a child custody modification request to the family court system for it to be reviewed. The parent who is making the request carries all of the burden of proof as to why this modification should be made, and the standards for approval are very high. Some of the things the parent will need to prove include:

  • A major change in circumstances since the last child custody judgment was made
  • A modification to the current child custody arrangement will benefit the children
  • The modification benefits will outweigh the schedule disturbances the children will experience during the transition

The standards that must be proven are high for a reason – family courts and mental health professionals believe that continued disruptions to a child’s schedule can often have mentally and emotionally damaging effects. With that being said, the state of California tries to keep changes to child custody agreements to a minimum to help eliminate unneeded disturbances that could ultimately affect the mental and emotional well-being of the children and the overall quality of their upbringing.

Child Custody and Relocation in California

One of the reasons parents may request a modification to their child custody agreement is if they are moving and wish to take the children with them. Some of the reasons why relocation may occur include the parent getting a new job opportunity, wanting to be closer to family members, or having the opportunity to get the children into a different educational program. Regardless of the reason for the relocation, the parent moving will need to submit the request to the California court system for approval.

When the judge reviews the relocation request, he or she will again have to take a number of factors into consideration in order to determine whether or not the relocation will be in the best interest of the children. Some of the areas of interest the judge will consider during this time will include:

  • How old the children are
  • If any of the children have special needs
  • The relationship between the children and the parent who is not relocating
  • The relationship between the children and the parent who is relocating
  • If the reason for the relocation will benefit the children in some way, including financially, educationally, or in their relationships with family members
  • The availability and cost of a communication alternative between the children and the parent who is not relocating
  • Whether or not the parent who is not relocating is protesting the move and why they are protesting it
  • Depending on the children’s ages, their preference of where they wish to reside

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