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How does a California judge make custody decisions?

On Behalf of | Sep 2, 2021 | Family Law

The terms set in your divorce will influence everything from where you live to how you retire. When you have young children, few matters are as important during a divorce as protecting your relationship with them.

The California family courts have specific procedures that judges must follow when making decisions in a contested custody case. They cannot arbitrarily give one parent sole custody while denying the other a relationship with the children.

What guides the custody decisions the judge makes in a divorce?

The main focus must be on the needs of the children

Both state law and court precedent are clear about one specific factor. The most important consideration in custody proceedings should always be the best interests of the children. Judges may look at the age of the children, the role that each parent has played in the family, work and school schedules, reports about special needs and, in some cases, even the opinions of the children when deciding how to allocate parental rights and responsibilities in a California divorce.

There is usually a presumption that, absent a history of abuse, neglect or severe instability on the part of one parent, shared custody or at least liberal visitation will be best for the kids. Judges may split up physical custody, which involves parenting time and responsibility for the children’s daily needs, and legal custody, which relates to decision-making authority. Parents could share both kinds of custody, or a judge may give both parents physical custody and only one legal custody. 

Unfounded allegations usually don’t hold up in contested custody cases

If your ex has threatened to cut you out of their life and the lives of your children by any means necessary, they might fabricate claims that make you look like a bad parent or a danger to the children.

Fortunately, the California family courts are unlikely to consider allegations not accompanied by documentation that helps validate those claims. In fact, your ex making allegations against you and trying to deny you any form of shared custody could look like parental alienation and might help your side of the custody case.

Learning about how California handles custody matters can help make you more confident as you approach your court date.