As a parent in California, you may petition the court to award custody of your child (or another’s child in limited cases) as part of a divorce, at some point after a divorce, or if you and and the other parent were never married. California family law courts award custody in a variety of manners, but, for many parents, they want to know how they can get sole custody of a child. Below we go through the issues you need to understand in seeking sole custody of a child.
Understand There are Two Kinds of Custody
California family law courts will make decisions on both who should have Legal Custody and who should have Physical Custody. Legal custody grants one or both parents with the right to make major life decisions on behalf of the child about their educational, medical, religious, travel, and other decisions. Physical custody grants one or both parents the right to have the child physically reside with them.
The Difference Between Joint and Sole Custody
Courts can award either joint or sole custody with both legal custody and physical custody. In the context of legal custody, joint custody would mean that both parents would share the responsibility of making decisions on behalf of the child, while sole custody means only parent has that right. And with physical custody, joint custody would entail the child living with each parent during separate times of the week, while sole custody means the parent would stay with only one parent.
Maternal Custody is No Longer the Preference in California
By law, courts cannot favor the mother (or the father for that matter) in determining who should have sole custody. Instead, the courts are required to determine custody based on the best interests of the child. The factors going into this best interests determination that the court must consider are written into the California family law code and include:
- The child’s age
- The relationship of the child’s parents and any other persons who may significantly affect the child’s welfare
- The preference of the child (if the child is old enough to express this)
- The current situation of the child
- The child’s adjustment to current geographical and schooling situation
- The stability of the proposed custody arrangement
- The capacity of the parents to provide adequate childcare, love and support
- History of domestic violence
- Other meaningful factors asserted by the parties
Thus, a party seeking sole custody will want to make clear, convincing arguments, supported by facts where possible, that sole custody is in the best interests of the child based on the factors above.
What To Avoid in Seeking Sole Custody
The courts often prefer to grant joint custody, but will grant sole custody when the situation calls for it. One important factor courts will consider when granting sole custody to one parent is whether that parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the noncustodial parent. Thus, it may not be wise to antagonize the other parent or seek to exclude the parent from the child’s life, but rather you should make the argument that sole custody is in the best interests of the child for the reasons stated above. That said, if the other parent presents a danger or risk to the child, the court should be aware of this, and you may consider pursuing a restraining order against the other parent.
Get Help in Your Custody Matter
Getting custody of your children is one of the most important legal goals you can ever undertake. An experienced, compassionate family lawyer can help you clearly make your arguments to a court for sole custody and navigate the family law system to get you the best possible results for you and your children. For help with any family law matters, please contact the Pasadena family law attorneys at Kearney Baker today.