Both parents have the equal right to participate in their children's’ lives, and California tends to prefer when both parents share joint legal and physical custody of their children. However, a court will not hesitate to revoke or minimize a parent’s custodial rights if doing so would be in the best interest of the child. A mother or father can lose custody of a child for a variety of reasons. Some of these are obvious, and others may be more surprising.
Parents who physically, emotionally, and/or psychological abuse their children will likely face adverse custody decisions. When a court is presented with evidence of a parent’s abusive conduct, it has the authority to modify any existing custody arrangements. Courts will not hesitate to revoke a parent’s custodial rights if it believes that doing so is in the child’s best interests.
False Allegations of Abuse
A parent may also lose custody of their children if they falsely accuse the other parent of abuse. Making false allegations of abuse are viewed as a way to deceive and disrupt the process of determining custody. A parent who resorts to telling outright lies about the other spouse may lose custody and visitation rights.
Custody rights can also be affected if a parent abuses other members of the household. Even if the child is not being directly harmed, domestic violence in the household can create a dangerous situation. Courts will shield a child from potential harm if evidence exists that a parent engages in abusive behavior in the home.
Drug & Alcohol Dependency
Parents who have demonstrated drug and/or alcohol dependencies may risk losing custody and visitation rights. Abusing legal and illegal substances prevents a parent from effectively caring for their children. Children are at a greater risk of being neglected, suffering physical abuse, and taking up bad themselves when their parents have drug addictions. A parent may not be considered fit to have custody if they cannot control their recreational habits. Courts may require parents to submit to drug testing to disprove any claims of abuse. While failing a drug test does not automatically mean that a parent’s custodial rights will be rescinded, it will likely play a large role in the court’s decision.
Mental Health Issues
Having mental health issues does not necessarily mean that a parent will lose custody of their children. However, if there is substantial proof to show that a parent’s mental illness and/or psychological issues pose a threat to the child, a court may decide to terminate or limit custodial rights. A court may require parents to complete psychological testing, interviews, and counseling when making custody decisions.
Neglecting a child can be just as harmful as outright abuse. Neglect can be broadly defined to include a variety of different things, including the failure to:
- Feed the child a proper diet,
- Provide adequate shelter,
- Ensure the child is well-groomed and clean,
- Get the child to scheduled appointments, and
- Supervise and watch the child.
Children who are neglected are at an increased risk of developing mental health issues and becoming ill. If a parent demonstrates that they do not take care of their child, their parental rights may be reassessed.
California law encourages children to stay in frequent and continuing contact with both parents. When parents share custody and visitation rights, they have a legal obligation to honor the terms of their custody arrangement. Parents may be accused of parental alienation when they try to physically withhold the child from the other parent or try to turn the child against the other parent by making disparaging and degrading remarks. Courts will not tolerate this kind of behavior and will punish the violating parent by limiting custodial and visitation rights.
Refusing to Communicate and Co-Parent
Parents have a responsibility to do what is best for their children. Even though parents may no longer live together, they still share obligations to make sure that their children are well-cared for. Many times, this will require communication and compromise. Refusing to communicate and co-parent can potentially have dramatic and devastating consequences for the child. If a court believes that a parent’s refusal to co-parent puts the child’s health, safety, education, or overall wellbeing in danger, the court may modify that parent’s custodial rights.
Working Too Much
Parents must be present and active in a child’s life. During a custody battle, a parent’s continued absence from the child’s life could be used against them. This is true even if the parent has legitimate reasons for being away. Having a demanding job, working multiple jobs, or even military service could potentially put a parent’s custodial rights in jeopardy. Courts will prefer to award custody to the parent who will be around the most.
If you are concerned about the future of your child custody and/or visitation rights, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney as soon you can.