Child custody often doesn’t pan out so smoothly. Although parents do have the chance to work out an out-of-court agreement—usually with input from attorneys—contention can indelibly disrupt communication. As a result, it’s left up to the court to make a decision on behalf of the child’s best interests.
Factors That Affect Child Custody
In determining a child’s best interests, California law specifies two guiding policies: (1) the health, safety, and welfare of the child, and (2) if the child benefits from frequent and continuing contact with both parents. In most cases courts favor joint custody, but certain circumstances call for sole physical or legal custody of a child.
1. Domestic Violence
A spouse who has committed an act of domestic violence can be denied custody of their child, and the other spouse granted sole custody. It is a good idea to document any cases of abuse and keep a list of witnesses to have as evidence in court. There are steps an abuser can take to attempt to show the court they have changed, but if an abused spouse feels that the child is still in danger, they can present further evidence to support an order of sole custody.
2. Drug and Alcohol Abuse
If a spouse abuses drugs and/or alcohol, they can also be denied custody of their child. However, while the abuse might have been common during the marriage or relationship, this isn’t usually enough to convince a court to grant sole custody. Instead, it can only be ordered if “persuasive evidence” is given showing that the spouse engaged in habitual, frequent and continual use of alcohol or drugs. A conviction within the previous 5 years for illegal use or possession of a controlled substance could qualify as persuasive evidence.
3. Child Abuse
Sole custody can be granted to a parent if the other parent has perpetrated acts of child abuse. California Family Code § 3044(a) specifies violence against a child or a child’s siblings within the previous 5 years.
4. Child Abandonment
If a parent is shown to have abandoned their child, the court might issue an order of sole custody in favor of the other parent. Such a situation might occur when one parent has been the sole caregiver for a child and the other parent has made little effort to provide financial support or be there for the child.