There are often a number of difficult issues that come up when a couple with kids decides to divorce. Those issues are magnified in situations in which the parents wind up living in different towns. As a recent case out of California’s Third District Court of Appeals shows, these cases can come down to very close calls about what’s in the best interests for the children involved.
Mother and Father separated in November 2009, following a nearly 12-year marriage in which the couple had one son. Father sought sole legal and physical custody of the one-year-old boy, and he asked that the trial court allow Mother only supervised visits with the boy. Mother had recently been arrested and charged with striking Father’s 80-year-old mother, according to the court, and Father alleged that she’d previously attempted to commit suicide in front of the boy. He also claimed that she allowed the child to play with sharp objects and generally lacked the parenting skills to properly care for him without supervision. Nevertheless, the trial court agreed to Mother’s request for joint physical custody. It also awarded the parents joint legal custody.
Mother returned to court about three years later, this time requesting sole legal and physical custody of the child. She was living in Quincy at the time, and she said she wanted Son to be able to start kindergarten there the next year. Father had since moved to Reno, Nevada, for work. Mother said Son, who was living with her 3.5 days a week, had already been involved in a Head Start program there, played soccer, and attended weekly reading classes. She said she wasn’t aware of Son being involved in any programs in Reno nor of his making any friends there. Father acknowledged that he had not enrolled Son in any preschool or other activities, but he said he was reading to the boy and getting him involved in various activities.
The trial court eventually decided to grant sole physical custody to Mother. It found that both parents were adequate, but it said Son needed to be with one full-time in order to attend school. Since he had already developed relationships with other children in Quincy and was attending daycare and the Head Start program there, the court said it appeared to be a better fit for Son to be with Mother.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Third District said the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in granting physical custody to Mother. The Court said it was a close case that could have gone either way. “As the trial court acknowledged, this matter presented a ‘difficult decision,’ and the court was required to weigh the testimony from ‘two good adequate parents,’” the appeals court said.
That Son was nearing school age was a change in circumstances significant enough to warrant changing the custody arrangement, according to the Court. While both parents made a strong case for physical custody, the Court said the trial court’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. That included evidence about Son’s activities and relationships in Quincy. “We are not authorized to reweigh the evidence or to substitute our judgment for that of the trial court,” the Third District said.
As this case shows, custody matters can come down to a very close weighing of the evidence. If you’re considering divorce or are grappling with child custody issues in California, contact San Jose child custody lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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