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Parenting is a tough job under any circumstances, but when divorce enters the picture worries arise over custody disputes, and for good reason. Little or no knowledge of the law in this area can lead to doubts and popular misconceptions taking over. One of the most common misconceptions, and most frequently asked questions, when it comes to California family court is California favors mothers in custody disputes.

Is it true?

The short answer is no, but let’s discuss why because it doesn’t mean that California is a 50/50 state either.

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California Child Custody

Under California law, child custody is governed by Sections 3040-3049 of the Family Code, which sets out a preferred order of custody options. Judges are required to follow that order, always keeping in mind the child’s or children’s best interests. There are two types of custody, physical and legal. Legal custody refers to a parental right to make decisions for a child in such matters as education, health and religion. Physical custody applies to the actual place where children will live; in other words, their legal residence. Physical custody includes housing, feeding and care for the children.

  • Option one: award joint full custody to both parents
  • Option two: award sole full custody to one parent
  • Option three: One parent awarded physical custody and the other legal custody
  • Option four: One parent awarded legal and physical custody while the other has just one of those, usually legal

In cases where a non-custodial decision is made, the judge will often grant certain visitation rights.

Child Custody Disputes

When a divorcing couple cannot agree on custody arrangements, a judge steps in and makes the decisions for them. These decisions are complex and the variables are numerous.

If a judge sees that the parties are able to co-parent, and both agree to share parental responsibilities, the court often awards legal and physical custody to them both. When there is only one parent who does the majority of the parenting, the court may award sole legal and physical custody to that parent. Difficulties arise when both parents want full sole custody of a child and that is when California courts are required to act in the best interests of the child, not the parents. It is not that California favors mothers, however it is very common for mothers to be the primary parent.

Are Mothers Favored?

California family law courts are required to act in a child’s best interest and to do so the judge will consider a number of issues:

  • Ability of a parent to provide for a child, including job, income, etc.
  • The emotional bonds between a child and each parent
  • Extenuating circumstances such as criminal history, abuse or substance abuse problems
  • The geographic locations of each parent either before or contemplated after divorce
  • Physical or emotional handicaps of all parties
  • The needs of siblings or other family members

There are some parents who believe children should have the right to choose which parent gains custody of them. This is an incredible burden to place on a child and, while the court will often consider a child’s preferences, they are not a controlling factor in the judge’s decision.

There are any number of reasons the myth persists that California favors mothers in custody disputes, but the law does not back them up. Other states have differing laws and it’s possible people believe if it happens there, it can happen here.

As far as California law is concerned, no parent is to get preferential treatment when it comes to custody disputes and neither is accorded an advantage. The judge must look at the facts before the court and base his or her decision on what is best for the child, taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each family.

It’s important to note that family law has evolved to be more gender-neutral, emphasizing the child’s well-being, the ability of each parent to provide a stable and supportive environment, and the willingness of parents to cooperate in co-parenting.

In California, as in many jurisdictions, the legal standard is to make custody decisions based on the best interests of the child, considering various factors such as the child’s age, health, and relationship with each parent.


Despite the myth that California favors mothers in custody disputes, custody battles are never easy. If someone feels that their custody case is unfairly biased, it’s crucial to consult with a family law attorney who can provide guidance based on the specific details of their case and applicable laws. The experienced attorneys at Minella Law Group are well versed in custody disputes and can help you with your case.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call us at (619) 289-7948. We look forward to helping you.



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