Child Custody in California


California family courts consider a number of factors before granting a parent either sole custody or joint custody. Parents who wish to file for child custody in California should first become familiar with the child custody laws in California.

Factors Considered When Determining Child Custody in California

  • The best interests of the child
  • Which parent is more likely to encourage frequent visits with the other parent
  • Child’s wishes, which are only considered if the child is of a certain age and maturity level (generally over age 12)
  • History of domestic violence
  • History of drug use

Parent v. Third Party Custodian

A California court will grant custody to a third-party, non-parent, if it decides that:

  • The child will be in danger or subject to harm in the care of a parent, and
  • Granting custody to a third-party custodian will serve the best interests of the child

Drug Testing and Child Custody Proceedings

A California family court can order a parent or third party seeking custody or visitation of a child to undergo a drug test for illegal drug use, prior to making a custody determination. However, a positive result will not necessarily mean that the parent will not be granted custody, but it will be considered as a factor along with other evidence of the parent or third party’s character.

The court will also consider a drug conviction in the past five years, or evidence of frequent drug use, before making determination about custody and/or visitation.

Domestic Violence in Child Custody Proceedings

In California, if a parent has a history of domestic violence against the child’s other parent, the child, or the child’s siblings, the court would prefer not to grant custody to that parent. However, a court will consider the following:

  • Whether the accused parent has successfully completed a batterer’s treatment program
  • Whether the accused parent has successfully completed a parenting class
  • Whether there is an order of protection in place, to protect the victim
  • Whether the accused has committed any further acts of domestic violence

The California family courts prefer to offer shared custody to both parents because the court deems joint custody to be in the best interests of the child. For more information about child custody in California, consult with a qualified attorney in California or read the California Family Code.