How is Child Custody Decided in California?

California law prefers that both parents be involved in their children's lives, so joint custody is favored whenever possible. It is preferred that parents reach a custody agreement that works for their family rather than having the court make a decision. However, if parents cannot agree, the court will determine custody based on the best interests of the children. A court must consider several factors, including:

  • The child's reasonable preference, if old enough to express a preference
  • The parents' physical and mental health
  • The age and sex of the child
  • The child's relationship with other members of the household
  • Other children whose custody arrangement is relevant to this determination
  • The child's adjustment to school and the community
  • Religious and cultural considerations
  • The need for the child to continue in a stable home environment
  • Any domestic violence the child has witnessed or experienced in the home
  • Evidence of drug or alcohol abuse, child abuse, or sexual abuse by either parent
  • Evidence of excessive discipline or emotional abuse by either parent
  • Any special needs of a child and how each parent addresses those needs
  • The opportunity for interaction with either parent's extended family

Custody is not automatically granted to either parent for any reason; the court must consider the best interests factors as they apply in the case.