Child Custody laws vary from state to state, but every court in America agrees that the child’s best interest is the most critical factor in deciding custody arrangements.
In California, the court believes that a child has the right to a relationship with both parents (unless there is abuse involved). With that being said, there are several reasons why a parent can lose custody. All of theses reasons pivot around “the best interest of the child”.
Read below to learn 7 reasons why parents lose custody in California.
1. Abuse or Neglect
Every child deserves to live in a safe environment. Any kind of abuse or neglect is potential grounds for loss of custody, even if your children are not the victims of the abuse. Abuse allegations are serious. If they are proven true it is very difficult to retain all custody privileges.
The state of California outlines various types of abuse and what behaviors define each category. Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are among the most common types of abuse that impact custody, though they are not the only ones.
Any physical abuse, whether it is in the past or happening currently is grounds for lost custody. Physical abuse is defined by the action of the perpetrator, not the evidence on the victim. Physical abuse is defined as any physical harm, even if it doesn’t leave a mark.
It goes without saying that sexual abuse is taken seriously and will not be tolerated by courts. If there is a history of sexual abuse in your life, whether it is toward your children or not, it is highly likely you will lose custody of your children.
Emotional abuse can be difficult to prove, but it has been known to be the reason a parent has lost custody of their child. Emotional abuse can include anything that prevents a child from emotionally developing at an age-appropriate rate or diminishes a child’s self-respect or self-worth.
Abuse of Others
Proven abuse of a partner, other children, or anyone else can prevent you from winning custody of your children. Even if you have never abused your own children, the risk is too high for a judge to grant custody.
In some situations, you can still be granted supervised visitation with a court-approved family member or friend or with a third-party visitation center if you have proven or alleged abuse allegations in your history. This is decided on a case-by-case basis and depends on your level of cooperation, the allegations leveled at you, and the suspected impact a visit will have on your children’s emotional state.
2. Parental Alienation
Parental alienation is when one parent intentionally turns a child against the other parent, often with false, exaggerated, or unnecessary information. Unless there is abuse, California courts believe that a child has the right to a relationship with both parents. Judges in California do not look kindly on parents who attempt to turn their children against the other parent.
It is best to avoid any negative conversations about your ex with or around your children. This will help your children maintain a positive relationship with their other parent.
It can be difficult to simultaneously tell your children the truth about why you are separating from their parent and not share information that will show your ex in a bad light. Be as open and honest as you can while also remaining objective and age-appropriate. Even if your ex is entirely to blame for your divorce do not share the details with your children.
You can avoid parental alienation allegations by talking to your children about the divorce with your ex. The first step of your co-parenting relationship will be to decide together what you will tell your children and how you will tell them. Stick to the script you create together, even when questions arise after your initial shared conversation.
Addiction can prevent you from gaining custody for multiple reasons. Addictions can be tied to crime, decreased ability to take care of children, and a general lack of stability.
Addiction to Illegal Substances
Addiction to illegal substances is a double whammy when it comes to losing custody. Not only can your addiction be ruled as a liability to providing a stable life for your child, it can also create a criminal record (if it hasn’t already).
If you have previously been addicted to illegal substances but are in recovery, you can potentially obtain partial custody or visitation rights.
Addiction to Legal Substances or Activities
If you are addicted to something that is legal you can still lose custody because of the incompatible lifestyle or safety issues your addiction will expose your children to. Any addiction that impairs judgment or poses a threat to your child’s safety will diminish your chances of being awarded custody.
In short, any addiction that interferes with a parent’s ability to provide care that is in the child’s best interest will result in a loss of custody. Common examples are gambling addictions, sex addictions, and in some rare cases, video game addictions.
Video game addictions are not typically grounds for loss of custody unless they are substantially tied to child neglect or harm.
4. Parentage Isn’t Established
In many situations, parentage is assumed and you will not have to prove parental status. Couples in heterosexual marriages at the time a child is born and mothers who birth their children have automatic parentage.
If you are not in a heterosexual marriage or if you are a man not married to his partner at the time of birth, you will need to establish parentage.
Establishing parentage can be very simple. If the parents are in agreement, they both simply sign a declaration of parentage to legally grant the father parental rights. This is used when there is no chance someone else is the father. This is the easiest way to establish parentage, especially if it is done before a breakup is on the table.
If a parent doesn’t want to establish parentage or if a parent wants to prevent the other from establishing parentage, a legal route will have to be taken. A court order can require a father and mother to do DNA testing to prove the parentage of a father.
Custody and child support can’t be issued for a parent without established parentage. It is often in the best interest of both parents to establish parentage, especially if child support is needed by the custodial parent.
If you haven’t established parentage yet, a paternity lawyer can help you to establish parentage and pursue custody of your children.
5. Defying Court Orders
Before your divorce is finalized and a child custody agreement has been reached, there will be temporary court orders created to guide your co-parenting relationship. Child custody court orders can include visitation schedules, parenting restrictions or requirements, and contact rules.
One of the ways you can lose custody is by ignoring court orders. Defying court orders is one of the most preventable ways to lose custody. Simply follow the rules the judge lays out for you. If something drastically changes, you can get an emergency court order to alter your situation.
Preventing a child from spending court-appointed time with a parent is a fast way to reduce visitation time or lose custody entirely. You might think you are hurting your ex by not allowing your children to see them, but in the long run, you are also hurting your children and yourself.
If you are preventing visitation because there is fear of abuse or your children refuse to see the other parent, speak to your lawyer and follow the advice that they give. If abuse happens during a visit, call the police immediately so an emergency court order can legally prevent future visits.
Not Respecting Visitation
Even if you are not outright refusing visitation between your ex-partner and your children, you can still find yourself in hot water if you’re not respecting visitation times. Common ways visitation isn’t respected are:
- Scheduling extra-curricular activities during the other parent’s time without their consent.
- Dictating who can and can’t be seen in extended family circles even when the court hasn’t barred those individuals from seeing the children.
- Being excessively or frequently late and cutting into the other parent’s time.
Preventing Parent Communication
Court orders won’t necessarily set up the number of hours a child needs to talk on the phone or video call their non-custodial parent. There is more leeway with communication than there are with visits. In most situations, the expectation is that reasonable requests for communication will be honored.
A reasonable request is one that happens at an appropriate time of day, such as in the evening after school or on a day off, and one that is an appropriate length of time. For example, you are not required to allow a four-hour phone conversation every evening, but a 20-minute call before bed each night should be accommodated.
Children should also be allowed to communicate when they desire to communicate with the other parent when the situation allows.
Making Impactful Decisions Alone
There are a broad number of decisions that can be considered impactful to a child’s life. Typically any medical, religious, or school choice-related decisions cannot be made unilaterally. If you make an impactful decision for your child without conferring with the other parent you can lose custody for defying court orders.
If you need to make a decision in an emergency or to save a child’s life and do not have the time to contact the child’s other parent, the court will likely be lenient and you will not lose custody.
6. Child Abduction
Attempting to flee with your children is considered kidnapping and is grounds for a total loss of custody (even if you are deemed fit previous to the abduction).
7. Incompatible Lifestyle
The most nuanced reason you can lose custody of your children is because of an incompatible lifestyle. Sometimes custody will not be granted because of the way you live and not because you have been deemed unfit or abusive.
There are multiple ways of life that can be deemed incompatible with being the custodial parent, but many of them revolve around work-life balance. If you work excessive hours or travel more often than you are home, you might lose primary custody of your children. This is especially possible if the other parent works a more traditional schedule.
It is still likely that you can have partial custody on weekends or a few weeks a year; a job that isn’t compatible with taking care of children is not a permanent end to visitation.
If you do not have a safe place for your children to live while they are with you it is possible to lose custody. Unsafe living conditions include living in a physically unsafe property, living with a roommate or family member who has a history of abuse or addiction, or in some cases, being homeless.
Similar to an incompatible job, not having a safe home won’t necessarily strip you of all visitation rights. You can do visits at a third-party center, a court-approved family member’s or friend’s home, or a public place.
Moving far from where your children currently live can also be the cause of a change of custody. Many custody agreements specify where a parent must live to maintain custody, otherwise a court order may be necessary to change custody. If you willingly choose to leave the geographic area you are supposed to be you can forfeit custody or visitation rights, at least temporarily.
Don’t Lose Custody
Losing time with your children is gut-wrenching. Creating a custody agreement is a difficult process with many considerations, the chief of which is your child’s needs. Get a good lawyer who can help you showcase the aspects of your life that will benefit your child.
Once you’ve secured legal counsel, continue to live a stable life and follow all court orders, even if your ex-partner is not. Document the times your co-parent doesn’t respect the rules and share them with your lawyer.
Most importantly, continue to show your children love and that they are a priority. Unless there is suspected abuse or criminal activity on your end, you will most likely be able to see and communicate with them even if you are not the primary caregiver.