As you go through your divorce, you and your spouse will decide how to share custody of your children. If the two of you can agree on an arrangement, you can avoid having a court decide for you.

But if you don’t agree, a judge will rule on how to split custody. California has specific laws that instruct courts how to determine a custody arrangement in the best interests of your children. California judges must consider:

  • How will the custody arrangement affect the child’s health and safety? – The judge will make sure that the parenting plan looks out for the children’s welfare. A parent that can’t provide adequate food, housing or safety may lose out on physical custody.
  • How old is the child? If your children are over 14, they can tell the judge their preferences. And if they are under 14, the judge determines if both you and your former spouse can care for them.
  • Does the parent have any history of family abuse or drug use? – Judges weigh the history of each parent when deciding custody. If one parent is known to abuse children or spouses or has a problem with drugs or alcohol, the judge may look unfavorably on that history.
  • How emotionally connected is each parent to the child? – If one spouse was never home and doesn’t have emotional ties to your children, the judge may favor giving custody to the other spouse.
  • How connected is the child to a community? – When spouses divorce, one often stays in the family home while the other moves. If that parent moves outside of the children’s familiar school zone or community, the judge may not want to move the children as well.

Each individual custody case brought before a California court will be different. But the judge will follow the guidelines in state law when determining the best custody arrangement.

To avoid having to go through court, you and your spouse can sit down and come up with a parenting plan that works for both of you.

But if you can’t, a court will decide based on your children’s best interests.