Under California law, both parents have the legal right to seek child custody and visitation rights. In other words, the mother and father are considered equal. Regardless of the relationship between the parents, they both have equal legal rights regarding issues of custody of their kids.
When both parents enter a California family courtroom to determine child custody terms, they start from the same line. When a judge makes decisions related to custody and visitation, their primary motive is to determine what's in the “best interests of the child.
Under this crucial standard, involvement from both parents is considered ideal unless there is some threat to the child's wellbeing.
When some people hear the word “divorce,” they automatically think about one of the parents losing their child custody rights. In the past, fathers getting a divorce were frequently left out of the conservation over primary child custody rights.
While that has changed somewhat in recent years, many fathers are still considered the “second option” if the mother is not viable.
However, when fathers can't obtain primary custody, there is a child visitation option for fathers who want to remain involved in their children's lives.
Child visitation is usually granted to a parent who is not awarded custody of the children. For instance, the family court may give the mother sole physical custody and award visitation to the father.
The kids will primarily live with their mother daily and visit the father for periods that the parents or the court pre-arrange. In this manner, both parents can spend time with their children and engage in a level of caregiving during their crucial formative years.
A Father's Child Visitation Rights
A father has child visitation rights in a California divorce, but it's statistically a fact that the mothers are typically awarded sole physical and legal custody.
However, it's also statistically a fact that children benefit from relationships with their parents, which is why the family courts will focus on a father's rights. When parents are getting a divorce, they must make physical and legal custody decisions:
- Physical custody means where the child will primarily live, and
- Legal custody means which parent has the authority to make crucial decisions in the child's life.
Family law lawyers can assist parents in reaching a mutual agreement without having to litigate the matter in court. If the parents cannot reach a child custody and visitation arrangement, they force a family judge to make the decisions.
This is not a wise strategy as it takes control away from the parents and places it in the hands of a well-meaning stranger, which often produces unexpected results.
Recall that a mother and a father have equal rights in California child custody cases, but one parent is usually considered a more suitable caregiver based on:
- where they live,
- relationship with their child, and
- many other factors.
Again, it simply can't be overstated as it is the one critical factor when judges decide on child custody. It's the usual standard of the best interests of the children.
Mothers and fathers need to remember that these custody and visitation decisions are not about them or their feelings. It's not about what they want or believe. The children remain the primary consideration.
Fathers often have difficulty arguing for themselves over child custody because they assume the mother will be awarded primary child custody, but dads have rights too. This is one reason a father should consult with a family law lawyer who can help them receive child visitation.
What About a Father's Right to Child Support in California?
Depending on the divorce outcome, one parent can be awarded “primary custodian” and the other “non-custodian.” This means that the child's primary custodian will have custody most of the time and determines where the child will live.
The non-custodial parent will be awarded visitation depending on various circumstances of the divorce, which usually includes unsupervised weekend visitations or supervised visitations with the child. This is often ordered when there is a history of domestic violence.
In divorces where the father is awarded primary child custodian, they will have the legal right to seek the mother's financial assistance of child support. The non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent to help them cover the financial obligations to raise their child for daily expenses, such as:
- food and clothing,
- transportation to school,
- medical bills,
- daily cost of maintaining their standard of living.
In other words, fathers have an equal right to pursue child support payments when they are their child's primary custodians. This means they have the same legal rights as mothers if they need to pursue legal action for unpaid child support.
What About Child Custody Rights of Unmarried Fathers?
Unmarried fathers usually face similar legal issues that divorcing parents will face related to child custody, child visitation, and support matters. Unmarried fathers need to understand that in any legal dispute involving a child, all family law courts will again have the child's best interest as their primary concern.
If you are an unmarried father pursuing child custody rights, this could work in your favor because your rights might be in the child's best interest.
California family courts routinely recognize that giving a child an opportunity to bond with their father is in their best interest long-term.
You could agree with the mother to sign a “voluntary declaration of parentage.” You will have parental rights as long as you are the biological father.
In some divorce cases in California, fathers might believe the family court does not adequately consider their legal rights to visit their children.
Most fathers want to maintain a relationship with their kids after the divorce. If you are a father seeking child custody rights and visitation, you need to seek counsel from a legal professional with experience in father's rights.
We know how to help fathers maintain custody rights, receive visitation time with their kids, and support them if awarded primary child custodians.
The California family law and divorce attorneys of Furman & Zavatsky are in Los Angeles County. Our firm offers a free case evaluation at (818) 528-3471 or use the contact form.