How does a judge decide custody in California?

If you are going through a divorce and cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the court will have to step in and decide the way forward. A judge will issue custody orders defining each parent’s roles and responsibilities in caring for the child. 

But, what standards are used to determine custody?

Contrary to a widespread misconception, the parents’ gender does not play a part in these proceedings. California law is quite clear on this, and neither parent has the upper hand. Instead, the children’s best interests are what matters.

The children’s best interests explained

The court strives to create a custody arrangement that prioritizes the children’s overall well-being, safety and stability. Several factors are taken into account to determine this. They include:

  • The physical and mental health of each parent
  • Any history of substance abuse or domestic violence
  • The existing relationship between the children and each parent
  • The ability of the parents to cooperate with each other

The court also considers the children’s preferences, depending on their age and maturity, although it is not the sole determining factor. Stability and continuity of the children’s living arrangements, including their home environment, school, community and social connections, are also evaluated.

Custody orders are enforceable

Once the court rules on child custody, both parents must adhere to the court directives. Otherwise, they risk a raft of criminal and civil penalties. It is also worth noting that the court orders are not etched in stone. They can be modified if there has been a substantial change of circumstances on the parents’ or children’s side since the court’s ruling.

Learn more about your parental rights

Child custody proceedings can get complicated, especially if you are not reading from the same script as your ex. Therefore, it’s best to seek legal guidance to better understand how things work and what you can do to protect your legal rights as a parent.