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A History of Child Custody in California

A History of Child Custody in California


A History of Child Custody in California

by Jon D. Alexander, Esq.

My name is Jon D. Alexander, Esq. And I am an Orange County, California Divorce Attorney. This article is the sixth in a series outlining the divorce process in California. Please be aware that this article is not intended as and should not be relied upon as legal advice or as the creation of an attorney-client relationship.

This article examines the history of child custody in California. In the mid 1970s, a child psychology theory became widespread regarding child-parent bonding. The theory, at base, was that every child creates a "superior" bond with his/her "psychological parent."

This parent plays a dominant role in the psychological life of the child. This parent usually was the mother and during a divorce proceeding the court would generally award custody to the mother and vest her with the authority to make most decisions about the children including when the father could see his children.

By and large courts generally accepted this doctrine, but wouldn't give all control to the psychological parent. This was known as the "doctrine of the psychological parent." Since then the research data has changed significantly.

In the mid 1980s, child psychology research demonstrated that children actually bonded with both parents. The Supreme Court of California was a little slow on the uptake and adhered to the doctrine of the psychological parent. After the psychological parent was determined, the court had a preference to keep the child with that parent.

A consequence of this doctrine was that any change from the initial custody order (which, by definition, established the bond with the "psychological parent") would only be done in very specific circumstances. The burden of proof for the parent seeking a change was very high.

It was also this Doctrine that became the basis of California courts' adoption of the "stability doctrine" that provides once a custody order is issued it becomes the status quo and for stability purposes the "status quo" should not be altered unless there are extremely important and compelling circumstances that dictate otherwise.

This Doctrine (psychological parent doctrine) and its consequence or corollary (the "stability doctrine") have created the arguments that parents and their advocates use when seeking custody. A parent seeking custody will assert they are "psychological parent" or the "primary caretaker," and will argue to the court that because they have been the parent who is the fundamental influence in the child's life on a day to day basis that this status quo (parent asserting custody is psychological parent) should be maintained (stability doctrine). And, resultantly, that they should be given primary custody.

Historically, in California, Courts have relied on this sort of proof and evidence when awarding custody. In my next article I will describe how current trends differ from the psychological parent doctrine and stability doctrine. In the meantime, if you have any divorce or family law related questions please contact me at your convenience. You can reach me directly at my website linked below or you may email me Jon at oc-familylawyers.com.

About the Author:
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