Are Parents Entitled to Joint Custody of Their Children After Divorce?


In California, child custody is dividing into two overarching categories: sole and joint. When sole custody is established after a divorce, only one parent is given the right to raise and care for their child. Joint custody, on the other hand, splits parental rights and responsibilities between both parents.

For the most part, joint custody is preferred by parents, children, and courts. However, there is nothing in California’s family law books that entitles you to joint custody. As with so many other things in a family law case, if you want joint custody, then you have to convince the court it is the right decision.

Courts Always Look Out for the Best Interests of the Child

The reason why joint custody is not a guarantee in your child custody case is that a family law court must always do what appears to be representative of your child’s best interests. Since every child’s needs and expectations are unique, there is no way to promise that joint custody will be the best choice for them. In fact, there are many situations in which the court sees joint custody as a detriment to a child’s wellbeing.

Joint custody will most likely not be an option if any of these issues are present:

  • Abuse and neglect: Accusations of child or spousal abuse will give the court significant pause about joint custody. In most cases, it takes very little to convince a court to take custody rights away from a parent who has been accused of abuse. The same is true if a parent is accused of neglecting their child’s basic needs, like food, housing, clothing, and regular, healthy interaction.
  • Restraining order: The presence of a restraining order filed against one spouse by the other is often enough to make the court assign sole custody rather than joint custody. With this in mind, if your spouse has filed for a restraining order against you and you think it is unjustified, you will still have an extra hurdle to overcome if you want joint custody of your child.
  • Alcoholism and substance addiction: Parents with a history of alcohol and drug addiction might find it difficult to get joint custody of their children. The court will assume that such addictions make most days a challenge for the addict, which will naturally make fulfilling the needs of their children a challenge as well. It is not necessarily a step against the parent, but instead one for the child’s best interests.
  • Visitation gaps: Sole custody may be used instead of joint custody if there is reason to believe one parent will not commit to visitation requirements and schedules. For example, if your ex-spouse has a history of missing required visitations, leaving you with your child when you thought they would be under their care instead, then joint custody and visitation rights could be removed.
  • Wrongful withholding or failure to follow court’s prior orders: Failing to bring your child to a schedule visitation can result in the removal of your joint custody rights. It can also land you in serious legal trouble. The wrongful withholding of your child from your ex-spouse could constitute kidnapping and be met with criminal charges.

Contact with Both Parents is Usually Preferred

While joint custody is not a promise, the general consensus is that it is in a child’s best interest to have frequent and ongoing contact with both parents. By completely removing one parent from a child’s life, it will create a sense of instability, which can have a ripple effect on all facets of their lives, from their schoolwork to their personalities. Oppositely, continuity through joint custody can help improve a child’s upbringing.

As a minimum, joint custody must include a 28% timeshare with your child. 28% might seem like a strange number, but it is effectively two days or 48 hours a week.

How Can You Get Joint Custody?

Given that you are not entitled to joint custody by any means, you are left with the question: “How do I get joint custody when divorcing in California?” There is no clear and confident answer to the question. Although, the general idea is to be a good parent to your child and be able to show the court that you are one.

A good starting point to form your argument in case you anticipate your spouse will try to block joint custody is working with a family lawyer from Kraft Miles, A Law Corporation. We represent clients throughout San Fernando Valley in a variety of family law and divorce cases, including child custody contests. Your goals and priorities become our own when we act as your legal representatives.

Call us at (818) 462-5076 to learn more about our services or to request an initial consultation.

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