Does a California DUI Affect Child Custody?
California takes driving under the influence incredibly seriously – so a DUI can be a significant setback for any California parent who receives such a charge while seeking custody of their child. Even one DUI offense can prove to be a monumental hurdle to overcome when going through the process of determining child custody and what is in the best interest of the child. The California courts will always take the side of the children and first consider whether custody with any particular parent might put the child’s health, safety, or general welfare at risk.
Given the above, a parent who has been charged or arrested for a DUI might be wondering how, exactly, this development might affect them and the custody of their kids. The answer, like so many things in law, is that “it depends.” The situations surrounding each DUI are different and some circumstances will be harder to overcome than others. For example, a DUI that resulted in a hit and run where a person is injured will be looked at in a different light than a DUI where a person was simply pulled over without further incident. Another factor the court would consider is whether the child is with you in the car at the time, as that goes toward the child’s welfare and endangerment, and could foreshadow a potential for future endangerment of the child. In any scenario, speaking with an experienced attorney will ensure that you approach your case with your best foot forward.
The Best Interests of a Child
In a California child custody case the court will always consider the best interests of the child above all other factors. In California the court considers the child’s best interests to be those that serve the child’s health, safety, and welfare. So, how does a court go about determining what a child’s best interests might be?
Before reviewing the facts of any child custody case, the court begins with a general presumption that it serves the child’s best interest to have regular contact with both of their parents. However, while reviewing the facts of a case the court may make the determination that based on the history and evidence provided, time spent with one parent could jeopardize the child’s health, safety, or welfare. If that is the case, the parent could very well lose their custodial rights.
When Can a DUI Affect Child Custody?
A California court is likely to view a DUI conviction as evidence that a parent may not be properly protecting their child’s best interests. This is particularly true if the other parent submits evidence that the DUI-convicted parent is a habitual drinker, or has driven under the influence with their child in the vehicle. Evidence to support such claims can include documents from institutions such as probation departments, rehabilitation facilities, medical records, and/or social services.
How Serious is a DUI Conviction When it Comes to Child Custody?
A DUI conviction does not automatically strip a parent of the ability to have custody of their child. As previously discussed, every situation is different. For example, a court recognizes a difference between a parent who was convicted of a DUI 10 years ago and has an otherwise clean record, vs. a parent who was convicted of a DUI last Tuesday. The court also considers the details surrounding the DUI. Courts do not treat every conviction equally. Instead, they consider the factors that led to the conviction and let the specifics of each individual case inform their opinion on the case. A case that involved a parent driving under the influence with their child in the vehicle would be more challenging, for example, than a case where a person had no one else in the vehicle when they were arrested.
How Might a DUI Affect Child Custody?
The court’s primary goal and focus is on serving the best interests of the child. While the court approaches each case with a presumption that each parent should have regular contact with their child, this presumption is rebuttable. If the court believes that the evidence supports that a child’s wellbeing is put at risk while in the custody of one parent, a judge may limit that parents’ custody rights, and in egregious cases, may strip them of their rights entirely.
Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young
If a DUI charge might affect your rights, or the rights of your child’s other parent, contact the experienced San Francisco child custody lawyers at Cardwell, Steigerwald Young. Our experienced team has years of experience helping clients navigate the California family court system. Contact us today to receive sound legal counsel tailored to your individual needs.