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The most difficult aspect of any divorce or separation can be deciding where your children will live, and which parent will have custody. When making a child custody determination, a California court will consider many factors, including each parents' living accommodations and their ability to provide a safe environment. Although every family's situation is different, the health, safety, and welfare of the children are paramount in a child custody case — and a judge will always render a decision based on what is in their best interests.
Custody can be “joint,” and shared between parents or it can be “sole,” and belong only to one parent. In many cases, parents are able to come to an agreement outside of court to determine custody arrangements for their children. But when custody is contested, and the parents cannot reach a compromise, a judge will decide the outcome of the matter.
California courts do not automatically give preference to either the mother or the father in child custody cases. Rather, there are several factors a judge will examine to determine custody, including:
Importantly, the court will also consider the parent's stability and whether they can provide safe and suitable living accommodations for the child, factoring in their age and gender.
If the noncustodial parent doesn't have proper living accommodations, it doesn't necessarily mean they will be denied visitation. Both parents have a right to have meaningful parenting time with their children and absent any instances of abuse or neglect, a court will generally not deny access. However, a parent's living conditions could potentially impact the duration of time they may get to spend with the children — and whether they are allowed overnight visitation.
If the court finds that the noncustodial parent's living conditions are not safe or healthy for a child, a judge may order that visitation be supervised by a social worker or family member.
Sometimes, a noncustodial parent may not have the financial means to be able to afford a spacious living accommodation. Even though a court would not require a parent to have a large home in order to have visitation rights, they must still be able to provide adequate bedroom space for the children depending on the circumstances of the situation.
Specifically, a court will consider how many children live in the home, or will be visiting. While the amount of space alone will likely not be the sole determining factor in a court's custody decision, the issue of whether each child has an appropriate amount of space and privacy could affect the outcome. Additionally, a judge may assess how a child might adjust to their new surroundings. If the environment in which the noncustodial parent lives is significantly different from the child’s primary home, they may not be able to emotionally adapt as easily.
If Child Protective Services becomes involved in a custody case, a specific set of criteria is applied to determine whether the health and safety standards in the home are acceptable. CPS does not specifically require children to each have their own room. However, there are several rules concerning who is permitted to share a bedroom.
Under CPS's guidelines, no more than two children may share a bedroom and each child must have a separate bed with clean linens, pillows, blankets, and a mattress. In addition, children of opposite genders may not share a bedroom if they are over the age of five. CPS also requires that children must also have separate bedrooms from adults unless the child is an infant.
Each bedroom must also meet certain requirements. For example, a bedroom needs to have a window or door to function as an emergency exit to comply with CPS's rules. The bedroom entrance should also be easily accessible from the beds.
If a parent fails to meet CPS's requirements, they are given a certain amount of time to remedy the deficiency — depending on whether it would pose an immediate threat to the welfare of the children. If children are present in the home and CPS determines that there is a danger that poses an immediate threat, action must be taken right away to resolve the issue.
When facing a child custody dispute, it's critical to put your children first, no matter how strained the relationship between you and the other parent might be. While it's usually in the children's best interests to spend quality time with both parents, in some cases, it may not be. If you can prove that the child's welfare or safety would be placed at risk by their living or visiting with the other parent, custody may weigh in your favor.
In any child custody case, it's crucial to keep good records and document any questionable or concerning incidents. Any police reports, criminal convictions, or restraining orders in connection with the other parent should immediately be brought to the court's attention. A judge will evaluate any allegations of abuse or violence and corroborating evidence in a custody case.
If you're seeking primary custody, it's essential to make sure that your living accommodations are free from safety hazards. A judge will never award custody to a parent if the environment in which they live could jeopardize the welfare or health of the child. Although you don't need to have a large home or costly furnishings to be awarded custody, you must be able to provide your child with a living environment in which they can be healthy, happy, and thrive — emotionally, physically, and psychologically.
Child custody disputes can be stressful for everyone involved. If you are facing a child custody matter, a knowledgeable family law attorney can protect your legal rights and help relieve your emotional burden. The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has provided dedicated representation and compassionate counsel to clients in Fresno and the surrounding area for child custody matters for more than 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 222-4891.