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Can You Lose Custody for Not Co-Parenting in California? 2024

By Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP | Aug 23, 2023

Whether you are in the process of a child custody determination case or living with a court order, the idea of losing custody of your children can be terrifying. There are several reasons why parents may lose custody during a court case and even after the order has been finalized.

When parents learn that failure to co-parent is potentially a reason to lose custody, this can be stressful. Be aware that this doesn’t refer to a simple disagreement with your co-parent. However, if you and your co-parent are unable to properly care for your child and their interests because of an inability to co-parent, the court may remove custodial rights. A Child Custody Attorney in Orange County, CA, can help you understand your rights and how the state court determines a child’s interests.

Failing to Co-Parent in California

The state court assigns custody based on a child’s interests, and it assumes that frequent and substantial time with each parent is in the child’s interests unless there is proof to the contrary. Failing to adequately co-parent may or may not be enough reason to lose custody. This depends on the unique situation and how severely this inability to co-parent is impacting your child.

Simply disagreeing with your co-parent does not constitute removal of parental rights and custody. When actions include parental alienation or are similarly severe, this may be a reason to remove custody rights. Actions that show a severe failure of co-parenting to the detriment of a child may include:

  • A parent trying to harm their child’s relationship with the other parent
  • A parent keeping important school or health information from the other parent
  • A parent ignoring a court-ordered parenting plan

If these actions harm a child’s welfare, health, or safety, it would be serious enough for a family court to limit or remove custody rights, perhaps permanently. How a court handles a failure to co-parent depends on your unique circumstances and if there are alternate ways to allow parents to care for their child, such as parallel parenting. Co-parenting is not the right option for every family.

Order Enforcement

If a co-parent is failing to follow a parenting plan and properly co-parent, a parent can request order enforcement from a law enforcement officer or the court. Prior to a finalized court order, a parent’s failure to follow a temporary parenting plan, or refusal to cooperate with the other parent, may be reason to alter their custody in the final parenting plan. Once a court order is in place, there are steps that parents can take to enforce a violated court order. This includes:

  • Providing a law enforcement officer with a copy of the parenting plan and requesting enforcement
  • Filing for contempt of court if the co-parent has purposefully violated the court order
  • Contacting your county’s district attorney if you believe that your co-parent has abducted your child
  • Requesting an order modification with the court

If you are filing for contempt of court or modification, it’s essential to have a documented list of the other parent’s violations of the court order. The actions you take should reflect the severity, intention, and frequency of the violation. An attorney can help outline your options and what would be most effective for your situation.

When updating or modifying a court order, parents can either agree on a change and submit it to the court, or one parent can begin a petition to modify the order. Even if parents agree on a modification to custody, the judge must also approve the change. If the change is not in a child’s interests, the judge will not approve it. If one parent is filing to modify the order, they must prove a substantial change in circumstances that warrants the modification. If your co-parent is failing to follow the court-ordered parenting plan, the current custody order is no longer in a child’s interests.


Q: How Long Does a Father Have to Be Absent to Lose His Rights in California?

A: In California, if a parent has had no contact with their child for a period of at least six months, and has not exercised any parental rights during this time or attempted to contact the child, this is considered parental abandonment. Parental abandonment may be the reason for the court to involuntarily terminate a parent’s parental rights. This includes a parent’s right to make legal decisions for their child and their right to custody or visitation. In most cases, the involuntary termination of parental rights does not remove a parent’s ongoing responsibility to provide child support payments.

Q: Is California a 50-50 Custody State?

A: California is not explicitly a 50-50 custody state, but it does prefer joint physical and legal custody if possible. This is because state courts believe that it is in a child’s interests to spend continued and significant time with both their parents. This is the court’s assumption in any custody determination unless an involved party proves this assumption incorrect.

Although the court prefers joint custody arrangements, a perfect 50-50 split is often unrealistic. Joint custody arrangements require a lot of cooperation from both parents and the ability to work together in their child’s interests.

Q: What Deems a Parent Unfit in California?

A: An unfit parent in California is a legal term that refers to a parent who cannot provide the essential care, support, safety, and guidance that their child requires. A parent may be deemed unfit because of proof of child abuse, child neglect, domestic violence, or an otherwise unsafe living environment. A parent may also be deemed legally unfit if behaviors such as severe mental illness, continued substance abuse, incarceration, or other factors prevent the parent from caring for a child’s basic needs.

Q: What Affects Child Custody in California?

A: If parents can create a parenting plan together, the courts will often approve it unless it is counter to the child’s interests. If parents can’t reach an agreement, the court determines custody and a parenting plan based on the child’s interests. This is determined based on:

  • A child’s age, health, and welfare
  • The relationship a child has with each parent
  • Each parent’s capability to provide care for a child
  • A child’s connection to their school and community
  • If either parent is considered unfit

Contact Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP

At Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, we understand the delicate and stressful nature of child custody cases. Contact our team today to see how we can represent your interests in a custody or modification case.

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