Under California law, a court's decision in child custody matters is ultimately determined by considering the best interests of the child. One important aspect of the child's interest is assuring that the child will have continuing and frequent contact with both parents.
If one parent seems determined to interfere with the other parent's relationship with the child, the court may consider this in its custody decision. The California Court of Appeal case of In re the Marriage of Keith and Holly R. provides a demonstration of this principle.
A continuing dispute over custody
The husband and wife were married for two years and had one daughter from the marriage. Prior to the divorce, the mother moved the child from California to Arizona without the father's knowledge or consent, in addition to obtaining a restraining order against the father. The California trial court required the mother to return to Orange County and the Arizona restraining order was dismissed.
In the proceedings that followed, the father requested joint legal custody and sole physical custody, while the mother sought sole legal and physical custody. Although joint custody was initially awarded, numerous allegations and court proceedings followed. The mother again requested a move to Arizona, while the father alleged he would be the better primary custodian of the child, as he would not attempt to alienate the child from her mother.
After a trial on custody and visitation, the court awarded the father primary physical custody and gave the parents joint legal custody. The mother appealed this ruling.
Who would best facilitate contact with the other parent?
The California Court of Appeal suggested that this case would have vexed Solomon himself. Both parties were good parents and loved their daughter. A doctor who evaluated the case had suggested that the best situation would be one in which the parents shared equally in physical custody, but the distance between the residences, in Irvine and La Quinta, did not make this possible.
This meant that the obligation of ensuring that the daughter had regular and consistent contact with the other parent would fall on the parent with primary physical custody. There was substantial evidence that the father would be better at facilitating the daughter's contact with her mother than vice versa.
The father's home environment was more stable, he had a broader family support system in place, and the mother had previously moved to Arizona without notice to the father, completely cutting off contact. The mother had also moved to La Quinta with no notice, which significantly disrupted contact. In addition, she had filed police reports which the lower court had not found credible.
Thus, primary physical child custody was properly awarded to the father.
Seek advice before taking action
If you find yourself in an acrimonious dispute over child custody, whether prior to or after divorce proceedings, it is imperative that you receive advice from a family law attorney before taking any action. Seek an attorney who will provide experienced and committed representation that will help you to resolve the matter while protecting your rights and interests.