While the laws contained in California’s Family Code seek to provide both parents in a divorce situation with frequent and ongoing contact with their children, there are instances when a parent can lose custody of a child. Typically, these cases involve child abuse or neglect, or some other serious allegations. In some cases, parental alienation or false allegations by a manipulative former spouse, can be a factor.
This article was written to discuss some of the common reasons why a parent will face the loss of custody of a child. A parent who is dealing with a child custody matter, shouldn’t hesitate to consult with a family lawyer to discuss their options—their child’s future might depend on it. This article was written specifically for those dealing with custody issues in the state of California. If you are looking for a precise overview of CA’s child custody laws, visit our main page here.
How the Process Begins
Typically, the road to losing custody of a child begins with a parent notifying the court of an issue or concern involving the other parent and the child (abuse, neglect, etc.).
Known as a request for order, the process involves the alleging parent providing a declaration to the court, as well as evidence in support of the abuse. Unless the family court judge believes there is an imminent threat to the child’s safety a child custody investigation may be performed before a ruling is issued.
This could involve a special court-appointed investigator looking into the allegations presented. When a parent loses custody of a child, it often involves the loss of both legal and physical custody. For a detailed look at the types of child custody, visit this page. Continue reading to learn more about some of the common reasons a parent might lose custody of their children.
1. Child Abuse
Not surprisingly, child abuse is one of the most common reasons why parents lose custody of their children. Section 3011 of the CA family code states that when making a determination regarding child custody, the court must consider any history of abuse by a parent against any child to whom he or she is related.
Child abuse is often evident through a number of different indications including scars, bruises, cuts and other marks. It can be the result of a parent’s issues with anger, or it can be the result of inappropriate sexual behavior initiated by the parent.
There is also a line between acceptable corporal punishment and outright abuse. If you suspect a child is being abused, it is recommended that the police be notified. If you are concerned about the safety of your child when with a former spouse, consult a qualified family attorney to discuss your options.
2. Domestic Violence, Spousal Abuse
A parent doesn’t have to abuse a child in order for custody to be threatened, Section 3011 of the family code also states when considering child custody, a history of abuse against the other parent should also be factored into the court’s decision. Section 3044(a) states that upon a finding that a party has committed domestic violence within the previous five years, a “rebuttable presumption” exists that joint or sole custody of a child is detrimental to the best interest of the child.
This means that the burden is on the parent who has perpetrated domestic violence to demonstrate that being granted custody is in the child’s best interest.
3. A History of Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Family Code 3011(d) states that when making a determination on child custody, the court shall consider “the habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances, the habitual or continual abuse of alcohol, or the habitual or continual abuse of prescribed controlled substances by either parent.”
4. Violating A Custody Order
Often times, when a custody arrangement is agreed upon by two parents, scheduling hiccups will occur that range from mildly annoying to infuriating.
The question is whether or not violations of custody orders can result in a parent losing custody. The answer depends a lot depends on how well the custody order has been written, it also depends on the extent to which the parent violates that order.
If, for instance, two parents share joint legal custody, and one parent begins making decisions about the child’s extra curricular or educational activities without consulting the other parent, and these activities cut into the other parent’s custodial time, the existing custody order could potentially be modified, resulting in one parent’s loss of custody.
5. Parental Alienation, and False Accusations
While this article has discussed some situations in which a parent might be held responsible for making poor decisions, what about a good parent who stands falsely accused of sexually abusing a child? How does parental alienation factor into this equation? What is parental alienation? While a psychologist, social worker and family attorney will probably define it differently, the term basically refers to one parent using manipulation tactics to alienate a child from the other parent.
In an extreme cases a manipulative parent might even use what are known as “gaslighting” tactics in an effort to convince the child that they suffered abuse at the hands of the other parent that didn’t take place. If a parent is found to have made false accusations of abuse toward the other parent, there is a chance that the accuser could lose custody.
California Family Code § 3027.5(b) states that a court may limit a parent’s custody if the “court finds substantial evidence that the parent, with the intent to interfere with the other parent’s lawful contact with the child, made a report of child sexual abuse, during a child custody proceeding or at any other time, that he or she knew was false at the time it was made.”
Because of the delicate nature of the issue, a person who faces the loss of custody of their child due to parental alienation should not attempt to deal with the problem without consulting a lawyer first.
When former spouses with children simply can’t get along, co-parenting may be ordered. Co-parenting (also known as parallel parenting) allows two people who simply can’t get along to adhere to a strictly regimented joint-custody schedule that limits communication between the former spouses. Problems can arise however, when one parent refuses to adhere to the agreed upon co-parenting plan. The key question the court would consider is whether or not the child’s best interest is being impacted.
Other Issues, and Contacting a Family Attorney
It’s important to keep in mind, that this list of only five common reasons why parents lose custody of their children is by no means exhaustive. Family dynamics, as well as family law, are complex.
Going through a divorce can be an emotional experience, and when child custody is a factor, it can be even more daunting. If you have questions about the reasons parents lose custody of their children, or another question about family law, consider contacting our office for more information.