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Child custody factors and California law

Divorce is not the only time when a family law attorney might be called upon to assist in child custody determinations. As in today’s story, sometimes tragedy might leave a child without his or her parents. In that situation, a number of relatives might express competing interests in gaining legal custody.

According to reports, a recent car chase in another jurisdiction ended with the shooting of a mother in the presence of her 14-month-old daughter, who was a passenger in the car. The woman’s sister filed for temporary custody of the toddler, but the father currently has legal custody of the child and, not surprisingly, objected.

A court denied the aunt’s ex parte application, but a more protracted court battle may be brewing. According to reports, the husband is estranged from his former spouse’s family. It may be left to the court to determine the best interest of the child and make a child custody decision.

Under California law, several factors are used to determine the environment and legal guardian that will best promote a child’s health, safety and welfare. A starting point is the presumption that a child generally benefits from frequent contact with a parent. However, a parent’s history of substance abuse or criminal conduct may weigh against that presumption. In addition, a parent’s questionable ability to financially provide for a child may invite a court to consider other arrangements.

For example, a custody arrangement might distinguish between legal and physical custody. Although a biological parent might retain visitation rights, the actual decision-making responsibility for the child’s medical, educational and religious needs might be assigned to another adult. Since so many factors are involved in the court’s analysis, a potential guardian might benefit from the assistance of a child custody attorney in preparing a strong case.

Source:, “Baby in D.C. police shooting in custody battle,” John Nickerson, Oct. 11, 2013

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