Like most states, the standard for child custody determinations in California is the overall best interest of the child
with an emphasis on assuring the “health, safety, and welfare” of the child and “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents absent child abuse, domestic violence, or where the contact would not be in the best interest of the child as provided in the California family code section 3011 (See California Family Code Section 3011, 3020, 3040, 3080. Further, according to California family code section 3040, child custody should be granted in an order of preference and according to the best interest of the child.
Child custody may be petitioned by parents, grandparents, stepparents, or any person who believes they can provide suitable care and guidance to the child. According to California family code section 3040 child custody should be granted in an order of preference and according to the best interest of the child. The court looks first to grant custody to both parents jointly or to either parent before looking to grant custody to other persons. California however does not currently establish a preference or a presumption for or against joint custody arrangements.
In making a child custody order between the parents in California, the court must also grant the other (noncustodial) parent “reasonable visitation rights” . . . unless it is shown that visitation would be “detrimental to the best interest of the child.” [Ca Fam § 3100(a)]
Because of the importance placed on “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents, an order completely withholding a parent’s visitation privileges may issue only upon a finding that any form of visitation with the parent would be “detrimental” to the child’s best interest. [Ca Fam § 3100(a)] If the custody order does not provide for parent visitation rights but does not expressly withhold such rights, the noncustodial parent has an implicit right to “reasonable visitation.”
Trial courts generally have broad discretion in defining a parent’s “reasonable visitation” rights and establishing a visitation schedule. Subject to a few statutory limitations (below), the sole guideline is the child’s best interest (Ca Fam § 3100(a)).