When you become a parent, you take on a major responsibility. You’re agreeing to support and care for your child until they’re a legal adult, emotionally, physically, and financially. That’s a serious commitment. However, under California law, you receive certain rights in return.
The most important privilege you have as a parent is the right to maintain your relationship with your children. State law makes it clear that all parents should be permitted to raise and care for their kids unless they would put the children at risk. This idea is the foundation for all California child custody laws and decisions. But what are your parental rights, and what do they mean for your custody claim?
Understanding Parental Rights in California
When you become a parent, the California Family Code grants you the “fundamental right to provide for the care, custody, companionship, and management of [your] children.” In other words, you automatically receive the following rights:
- Care: Helping your children with the requirements of daily life, such as paying for their food and housing or taking them to school.
- Custody: Having your children live with you some or all of the time.
- Companionship: Spending quality time with your kids above and beyond simply living with them.
- Management: Making legal decisions on your kid’s behalf, such as where they will go to school or receive medical care.
These fundamental rights are combined into legal and physical custody. However, they are not “absolute.” In other words, you can lose these rights in certain circumstances.
The only thing that can supersede parental rights is the children’s rights. The California Family Code states, “Children have a fundamental right to maintain healthy, stable relationships with a person who has served in a significant, judicially approved parental role.” It also states, “It is the public policy of this state to ensure that the health, safety, and welfare of children shall be the court’s primary concern in determining the best interests of children when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children.”
This means that while parental relationships are strongly prioritized, the child’s best interests always come first. If maintaining a relationship with a parent would put a child in harm, the court can revoke that person’s parental rights.
Limitations to Parental Rights in California
Because your rights as a parent are considered fundamental, California courts are hesitant to curtail them. However, when a custody claim arises, the court must consider whether it is in the child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with both parents. The Family Code requires judges to consider the following factors when making decisions about the placement of children:
- Any history of domestic or sexual abuse by either parent or members of their household.
- Any history of unlawful drug use by parents or members of their households.
- The amount and type of contact the child has had so far with the parents.
If either party has a history of abuse or ongoing drug use, the court may decide to limit or revoke their parental rights. Additionally, the court must consider other factors as necessary if they may impact the child’s health, safety, or welfare.
There are two ways in which your rights can be limited. Sometimes, the judge may limit your physical custody, granting primary or sole custody to your co-parent. In this case, you’ll receive limited time with your kids, known as visitation. In particularly serious situations, you could be restricted to supervised visitation or have your right to visit revoked entirely.
You can also have your legal custody revoked. This is your ability to make legal decisions for your children. Without it, you cannot decide where they go to school, receive medical care, or other fundamental considerations. It is possible to retain legal custody without receiving visitation and vice versa.
Legal Support for Parents in California
If you’re preparing for a custody dispute, it’s important to understand your rights in California. A skilled attorney can assist you with a wide variety of custody and parenting issues, including:
- Making paternity or parentage claims: You can petition to be legally recognized as a child’s father or to have someone else recognized as their other parent. These petitions ensure all parties receive the rights and responsibilities of parenthood under California law. Your attorney will help you file the petition and argue for your children’s parentage.
- Dividing custody during splits: If you’re getting divorced or otherwise breaking up with your co-parent, you’ll need to decide how to split parenting responsibilities afterward. Your attorney will help you defend your right to care for your children or argue that your co-parent would put them at risk if they receive visitation.
- Modifying custody and support orders: If you have a custody or child support order, you may need to adjust it as your circumstances change. Your lawyer will help you determine if you’re eligible for a modification and help you support your petition if necessary.
In these scenarios, a dedicated attorney can make all the difference in maintaining parental rights.
Get Expert Legal Counsel for California Child Custody Claims
Custody disputes are serious matters. If you’re concerned about losing your right to care for your kids, you should contact an experienced family law attorney like those at CC LawGroup. We have been helping parents seek and maintain custody in California for decades.We are dedicated to using our knowledge and experience to support parents like you during even the most complex parenting cases. Our attorneys will work with you to help you achieve the best possible outcome from your custodial dispute. Learn more about how we can support you by scheduling a consultation with our Newark, California, family law office today.