When going through a divorce or legal separation, a California family court of law may grant you sole or joint physical custody of your children. These arrangements will be detailed in the custody order, which outlines each parent’s child custody and visitation rights.
Family courts don’t prefer one ruling over the other. Instead, sole or joint custody is awarded based on the children’s best interests.
If you were awarded sole custody of your children, you may have been granted sole physical custody or sole legal custody, or both.
Sole physical custody is referred to in family law as primary physical custody. This is where you have total rights to control the children’s whereabouts, school enrollment, after-school care, housing arrangements, medical and dental appointments, as well as the planning of any holidays or vacations.
Sole physical custody also means that the child would live solely with you at all times. You can usually travel in and out of state without restrictions unless those details are listed in the court order.
The non-custodial parent can still see the children, only that individual’s rights are limited to approved court visitation. Under family law, the noncustodial parent has the right to frequent contact and visitations with the children. The court may order supervised visitation or no visitation for extreme cases, such as in those cases where the noncustodial parent is known to abuse drugs, alcohol, or commit violent acts, for instance.
If you were awarded sole physical custody over the children, and you recently lost that right, it could have been for a number of reasons.
Reasons for Losing Sole Custody
In most cases, the process of stripping you of sole physical custody begins with the other parent notifying the courts of some type of issue concerning your parentage over the children. The other parent may cite abuse, neglect, or some other serious issue that they deem is a danger to the children’s well-being.
The act of notifying the courts of any sole custody issues is known as a request for order. During this process, the alleging parent will provide a declaration to the court in addition to any evidence of wrongdoing. Evidence could consist of video evidence of any abuse or neglect, social media posts, text messages, or any other mediums to support their case.
If the family court judge believes that there is an immediate threat to the children’s safety, you might be stripped of sole physical custody right there and then.
If the judge believes that there is no imminent threat to the children, a child custody investigation will begin before a final ruling is issued.
The investigation will be conducted by a court-appointed special investigator who will begin looking into the allegations presented by the noncustodial parent.
If the investigation shows that your parentage is questionable after all, you could lose sole physical custody of the children.
Here are some of the common reasons you may lose sole custody of your children.
- A History of Drug and/or Alcohol Use
Under Family Code 3011(d), when making a child custody determination, the family law courts will consider any habitual or continued illegal use of controlled substances, alcohol, or even the habitual or continual abuse of prescribed controlled substances. Read more about how drug and alcohol abuse can impact child custody visitation rights here.
- Child Abuse
California Family Code 3011 states that when making a child custody determination, the court must consider any history of abuse by the parent against any children to whom the parent is related.
Child abuse is often evident through indicators like bruises, cuts, scars, and other visible marks. Child abuse can be caused by the parent’s anger issues or it can be the result of inappropriate sexual contact initiated by the parent.
- Domestic Violence or Spousal Abuse
Family Code 3044(a) states that child custody orders must take into account any history of abuse against the other parent. If you have ever committed domestic violence against the parent within the previous five years, a “rebuttable presumption” will take effect that indicates that joint or sole custody of the children will be detrimental to the children’s best interests.
These represent only a few reasons why sole custody may be lost. If you weren’t in the children’s lives prior to the divorce or child custody hearing, as in you lack intimate knowledge of the kids’ schooling, doctor visits, health, hobbies, and others, you could also lose sole physical custody of the children.
You've Lost Sole Custody – Now What?
Losing sole physical and legal custody of the children can be an emotionally-draining affair. You want to do everything possible to regain custody in order to get back to how life was before the courts deemed you an unfit parent, or whatever other reason was given for stripping you of your sole custody rights.
How to Regain Custody of Your Child
If you've lost sole custody of your child, then here are some steps to take to possibly get them reinstated by a California family court judge:
- Look into the details of where it all went wrong
- Contact a qualified family attorney
- Take any contingency actions
- request a child custody re-evaluation
- Heed the court's requests
- Be patient
- Consider alternatives to sole custody
- Maintain a clean and safe environment for your children
- Drive safely
- Vet your contact list
Keep reading for a deeper dive into each of these!
Look into the Details of Where it All Went Wrong
This is a time to be extremely honest with yourself. If the judge in your case made a decision to award custody to the other parent or some other family member or guardian, you must examine your life and figure out why.
Whether the reason was substance abuse, one or more violent acts, sexual abuse, or neglect, you should make a plan to rectify the situation immediately.
If you have been wrongly accused of any of the above or other reasons, it is still important to cooperate with any court-ordered investigations, despite how frustrating or infuriating this process may be for you.
You are encouraged to gather friends, co-workers, neighbors, and any family members to give positive statements to the investigator on your behalf. With those closest to you speaking frankly and honestly about your parenting abilities, and if no abuse or other negative factors are discovered, the court may grant you sole custody once more.
Contact a Qualified Family Attorney
It is not wise to go through this process all on your own. Instead, call on the help of a skilled and qualified family law attorney. To win back sole custody of your children, an attorney will help you file all the necessary documents, discuss your child custody options, and keep you informed of the process as you work to regain the sole custody you have lost.
Take Any Contingency Actions
In your case, reinstatement of sole custody may be based on your ability to follow through on one or more special actions. These actions may include drug or alcohol treatment, counseling, or parenting classes.
Your family attorney can help you determine if the court has placed any stipulations on your ability to regain sole custody of your children. If the court has placed these stipulations on your case, follow through and complete all of the Judge’s demands.
The wrong path to take is to argue over the validity of these actions. Complying with the court will reflect favorably on you during the child custody re-evaluation process.
Request a Child Custody Re-Evaluation
When you’ve begun working with a lawyer and you’ve started to undergo any actions requested by the court, you’ll want to request an in-home child custody evaluation.
This process will give the courts an updated assessment of your home environment, which could help you regain sole custody.
Heed the Court’s Requests
If, during the evaluation process, the court requests anything of you, don’t delay. Just do it. This means that you should show up for every court hearing fully-prepared.
For best results, try not to reschedule appointments with the children’s guardian ad litem, which is the nomenclature for a court-ordered mediator.
The re-evaluation of your sole custody rights may not happen overnight. The best thing for you to do is remain patient during this process. In the meantime, make sure you exercise your rights to visitation and parenting time to show the courts that the re-granting of custody to you is in the children’s best interests.
Whatever you do, try not to aggravate the situation in any way. This means being polite to all court-ordered personnel like mediators and investigators. Most importantly, ensure you are as friendly as possible when picking up your kids for any visits.
Consider Alternatives to Sole Child Custody
Losing sole custody usually means that you want those rights reinstated so badly that they’re all you think about. This can cause you to fail to consider any other custody arrangements.
However, even shared custody will allow you equal time with the children, and that may be in their best interests.
For that reason, speak with your lawyer, work with your ex, and re-evaluate your own desires. If you’ve lost complete custody, joint custody is better than no time with the children at all.
Maintain a Clean and Safe Environment
Try to avoid doing anything that might showcase a questionable character. That means keeping your home as clean as possible. Of course, a little clutter is expected, especially when there are little ones around, but your home should be kept sanitary and comfortable to live in.
You will also want to ensure that your home is childproof. This means locking-up any firearms, putting laundry detergent pods (which can look like candy to kids) on a high shelf where children cannot reach, and keeping prescription drugs and alcohol out of sight.
Whatever you do, never keep illegal drugs in your home, particularly when the children are present.
Additional tips include avoiding anything that might be seen as sexual behavior. Even if your intentions are entirely innocent, you’ll want to avoid bathing with the children, walking around them naked, and even letting them sleep in your bed.
During this process, do your best to maintain a clean driving record. You should maintain speed limits at all times and avoid road rage or other driving-related incidents, especially when the kids are present.
When the children are in the car with you, make sure they wear their safety belts and use car seats when necessary.
Vet Your Contact List
Don’t let anyone around your kids who may be seen as dangerous by the courts. This may include those with felony or sex offenses, those who use drugs, and drug dealers.
Even close family members who may have done time for drugs, violence or sexual-related offenses in the past should be avoided while your sole-custody re-evaluation is ongoing. This is the case even if their crimes occurred decades ago.
If you have a new partner, it’s best to avoid allowing that person to stay in your home right after you’ve separated from your spouse, as doing so could upset your kids.
On the other hand, if you’ve been separated for some time, such as six months or more, it’s far more reasonable to introduce your kids to your new long-term partner.
You will also want to avoid inappropriate gatherings and vet all babysitters extremely carefully. Even if a friend from college wants to sleep on your couch for a night, you’ll want to seriously consider the ramifications if that person is found to have a criminal past or uses drugs and/or alcohol frequently.
At the same time, avoid going to bars, rock concerts, and R-rated movies while you have your children. Instead, be sure to explore any adult interests when the children aren’t around.
Keep in mind that your children are always absorbing the things going on around them and those that are said. If they repeat any questionable conversions or report on behavior or guests that fill them with unease, this could reflect negatively on you during your evaluation.
Have You Lost Sole Custody of Your Children?
When you find yourself being stripped of your sole custody rights, don’t hesitate. Call a qualified family lawyer at Griffith, Young, and Lass in Carlsbad, California. Our attorneys have experience with all aspects of child custody and other family law matters.
We can help you fight for your rights to have sole custody reinstated or pursue another arrangement, like joint custody, or whatever is in the best interests of the children.
By scheduling a free consultation, we can discuss your case with you and help you pursue your options as you seek to get sole custody reinstated.