In a new family court trend, parents have been fighting over the COVID-19 vaccine for their children. Many judges have been weighing in on the side of vaccinations, requiring the hesitant parties to let their co-parents vaccinate the kids.
However, it’s not just the children’s vaccination status that’s up for judicial review. When determining custody time, certain judges have begun considering the parents’ vaccination statuses. During a recent family court case, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Harvey A. Silberman informed a father, “Sir, you better get vaccinated, or you could very well lose time with your child unless you have a medical reason not to.”
While this specific instance is new, the idea of a judge weighing in on parents’ choices during a child custody case is not. Here’s what you need to know about judges’ powers and responsibilities for child custody rulings in California and some unexpected factors that may affect your custody case.
The Rights of Family Courts During Child Custody Decisions
The vaccination status argument heavily rests on what’s in the children’s best interests. According to California law, “best interests” to be considered include but are not limited to:
- Your kids’ health, safety, and welfare
- Their freedom from abuse
- Their right to have continued contact with both parents (unless it’s unsafe)
- Their right to grow up away from addiction
Judges can also consider many other factors, such as keeping the child in contact with other family members, letting them remain in their current school, and providing them access to good role models.
This idea of best interests is at the center of California child custody laws. The court system is intended to support the kids’ needs over the wishes of the parents. To pursue that goal, California has granted its judges a lot of room for personal discretion when awarding custody.
There are good reasons for permitting personal discretion instead of codifying strict laws, such as:
- Less risk of codifying discriminatory rules
- Less chance of a child being forced to live with an abusive parent
- More freedom to take individual circumstances into account
There’s one significant downside, though. Without a set of specific, written laws explaining exactly how a judge is supposed to decide what’s in your kids’ best interests, there’s a lot less certainty about what a specific judge will decide. The courts may take unexpected factors into account when determining child custody into account, such as your vaccination status or your mental health.
Other Unusual Problems That Impact Child Custody Rulings
Your vaccination status isn’t the only thing that could impact your child custody case. The sheer amount of leeway judges are granted in determining the best interests of your kids means that you need to expect the unexpected during your case. Other surprising concerns that may hurt your child custody case are:
Mental Health Counseling
There is an unfortunate bias against people with mental illnesses in the US. Going mental health counseling can be seen as a sign that you are a less fit parent.
This is particularly true if you’re attending court-mandated counseling for addiction or anger management. This type of counseling is often viewed as a sign that you may put your child in danger. However, a biased judge may consider even voluntary mental health treatment poorly. If you attend counseling of any kind, be prepared to demonstrate that your personal mental health does not affect your fitness as a parent.
Allegations of Child Abandonment
If your co-parent is fighting for full custody, you may already be prepared for allegations of abuse. You should also be ready to defend yourself against claims of child abandonment. You may be accused of child abandonment if you leave your kids alone for long periods, or even if you just leave them with other people.
For example, the law in California includes this in the definition of child abandonment: “Leaving a child with another person without provision for the child’s support and without meaningful communication with the child for a period of three months.” If you frequently go on business trips and leave your children with family, you’ll need to prove that you provide for and talk to them regularly.
Social Media Misbehavior
Social media posts are admissible evidence in a court of law. As long as something you’ve posted is accessible by your co-parent in some way, it could be used against you during your custody case. The types of social media posts that can hurt your case include:
- Pictures of you being intoxicated or consuming illegal substances
- Posts in which you lie or make abusive comments
- Vent posts about the other person
All of these may be seen as you demonstrating poor judgment. That may be enough for you to receive limited visitation rights, depending on the judge. You should clean up your social media presence as soon as you suspect you might need to go to court to prevent this.
Failure to Take Notes
What if you’re trying to prove that your co-parent is an unfit parent? Keeping your children away from dangerous behaviors is just as important as fighting to maintain your relationship with them. If you believe you should have sole custody to keep your kids safe, you need to take thorough notes on your co-parent’s behavior. Track things like:
- Specific descriptions of dangerous behavior
- The date and time of individual incidents
- The exact wording of your children’s complaints
- Medical records and pictures of any injuries your children face
Without these notes, you’ll have a much harder time proving that the other person is actually dangerous. Many judges are hesitant to award sole custody without solid proof. If you don’t keep good records, your kids may be forced to continue living with someone who’s bad for them.
Get Help Strengthening Your Child Custody Case
Family law and child custody are complicated. On your own, it’s impossible to keep track of all the factors that could hurt or help your custody claim. That’s why you should work with an experienced family law attorney during your custody case. They can help you strengthen your case and fight to keep your kids safe, healthy, and happy. You can get started today by scheduling your consultation with the experienced team at Kaspar & Lugay, LLP.