2024 How a Mother Can Lose a Custody Battle in California

By Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP | Jul 10, 2023

There is often an incorrect assumption that courts favor mothers and that it would be very difficult for them to lose custody. However, legally, this is not so. Mothers and fathers are to be treated without preference under the law with regard to custody issues. This means that, in the case of divorce and custody issues, a mother could lose her custody and potentially all parental rights in the same way that a father could.

Ways a Mother Can Lose Custody

In California, the goal of the courts is to aim for even custody between parents whenever possible. However, they are also required to put the child’s welfare first. This means that there are ways that a parent can lose custody. Also, because the court is legally prohibited from showing favoritism to a parent on the basis of sex/gender, the ways in which a mother may lose custody are the same as the ways that a father could lose custody. They include:

  • Neglecting the Child – If a mother endangers the health, safety, or well-being of a child, she may lose custody rights. This includes things like failing to provide food, clothes, shelter, or education. There is an understanding that no parent is perfect and minor issues may occur, but chronic problems can often be grounds for ruling that there is neglect.
  • Abuse of the Child – Abuse could take the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or psychological and emotional abuse. Any of these could lead to the custody of the children being stripped. Also, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the mother who commits any of these acts for custody to be lost. If she fails to protect her children from someone like a new romantic partner, that also can be a reason to remove custody.
  • Violation of a Court Order – Both parties in a divorce are required to follow the ruling made by the court. Violations of this, especially when it is related to custody and parenting time, are something that the court takes very seriously. When a mother fails to allow a father’s parenting time, as stipulated in the custody order, that could be grounds for removing custody.
  • Domestic Violence – If the mother has committed domestic violence against anyone in the household, there is a strong possibility that she will not be awarded custody.
  • Addiction or Substance Abuse – If the mother struggles with an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or other substances, it could mean not getting custody or even visitation rights. This is meant to protect children from exposure to both substances and addiction. Also, children in these situations are more likely to be victims of neglect and abuse.


Q: Do California Courts Favor Mothers in Custody Battles?

A: In California, the courts are supposed to make whatever decisions they believe are in the child’s interests with regard to custody and child support. The courts are also prohibited from making those decisions on the presumption that a particular sex/gender is better for the child. Instead, they are to take in the whole dynamic of the situation and decide based on that assessment. This does not, though, necessarily mean that the results of the court’s decisions may not skew in favor of the mother. For instance, if fathers generally have a more difficult time creating enough time for children around work commitments, then there may be a lot more cases where mothers are given more physical custody rights.

Q: How Long Does a Mother Have to Be Absent to Lose Her Rights in California?

A: Abandonment is one of the ways that a parent can lose their parental rights in California. The criteria are the same for mothers and fathers. Generally, it requires the proving of three elements:

  • The parent has ceased to provide financial support if they were required to.
  • The parent has had little or no contact with the child for one year.
  • The parent had an intent to abandon the child.

If the parent is determined to have abandoned the child, all parental rights will be terminated, and they can no longer bring custody, child support, or visitation claims to court.

Q: How Is Custody Awarded in California?

A: In California, custody is always awarded based on what the court believes to be in the interests of the child. There are four kinds of custody that determine the general custody arrangements:

  • Physical – This describes custody decisions regarding where the child will spend their time living. It can also include visitation protocols for a parent who was not awarded physical custody.
  • Legal – This describes the custody around decision-making for how the children will be raised. It includes making decisions regarding education, religion, and medical issues.
  • Sole – This is when one parent has the custody in question.
  • Joint – This is when the parents share custody and have an equal say.

The physical or legal custody is ruled to be either sole or joint. They need not be the same, either. For instance, even when the court orders sole physical custody for one parent, they will still make every effort to provide joint legal custody.

Q: What If a Mother Keeps the Children From Seeing Their Father?

A: A mother must adhere to the custody ruling that comes down from the court. This means that, if a father is granted shared custody or visitation rights, the way that those things are described in the ruling must be the process that the mother follows. Failure to follow those procedures can be grounds for modifying the custody agreement and can even lead to the mother losing custody.

Get Help for Your Custody Battle

Custody battles can be one of the ugliest parts of a divorce. The job of the court is to do what it believes is right for the child involved. It’s important that you have a strong case for whatever you’re seeking as also being ideal for the child’s welfare. A strong legal team from Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, can be most helpful in putting forward this kind of case. If you need someone to help you in your custody fight, contact us today.

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