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How is Child Custody Decided in California?


It is fairly common for both parents in a divorce to want to win sole or primary custody of their children. Clearly, the court cannot fulfill such a parental agreement, as one parent must have more parenting time than the other if they cannot agree on an equal joint custody decision. If the matter goes into the court’s hands, how will it come to its final decision?

Children First, Always

In California, both legal custody – the right to make important decisions for a child – and physical custody – the right to see and house a child – are determined on what is in the child’s best interests. If a decision of the court inconveniences one or both parents but keeps a child happy and safe, it will likely be approved.

In some cases, a child is old enough to voice their own opinion regarding custody. The court will generally use their input first and foremost. However, if the child is too young to be able to know what is best for them, the court has to start considering other factors.

When determining what is best for a child in terms of custody, the court will consider:

  • Location: Where does each parent live, and would living there affect the child significantly? Dangerous neighborhoods are to be avoided, and requiring a child to lose all connections to friends and schoolmates is not ideal.
  • Criminal history: A parent that has been convicted of certain or numerous crimes is unlikely to win child custody of any form. This is especially true if they have been convicted of domestic violence.
  • Relationship: Does the child show any aggression towards a certain parent? Even if that parent has done nothing wrong, it will do no good to have them be the primary custodian of the child, who would likely not listen to them. To win child custody, one must be in good standing with their own child.
  • Occupation: Some careers require a person to be away from their home for extended periods of time. Even if a parent makes a noteworthy income, they may not win child custody if they are frequently out of town, or moving residences.
  • Health: Everyone’s health needs to be considered. The presence of a chronic illness can change child custody decisions. A parent who is bedridden, for example, would not be expected to be the primary caregiver for a young child.

While it is true that the court examines and favors certain behaviors when deciding child custody, there is always room for deliberation. If you want to increase your chances of winning child custody in California, contact Gill Law Group, PC and team up with our Orange County divorce attorneys. We can help you form a persuasive argument that shows beyond a doubt why you should be granted child custody before your ex-spouse.