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Does the Wealthier Parent Always Win Custody?


When parents file for divorce in California, the courts encourage them to create a Parenting Plan and decide on child custody together. In the absence of substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, and severe mental illness that impairs parenting, the family courts encourage joint custody arrangements where possible. However, not all parents can agree on child custody. Sometimes, both parents want custody and a child custody battle ensues. In such cases, the judge has to decide for them.

What if the parents are locked in a child custody battle and one parent is much wealthier than the other? Does that mean the courts will automatically award custody to the richer parent? Read on as we shed light on this topic.

How the Family Courts Look at It

When it comes to child custody, a parent is not automatically awarded custody because he or she is wealthier than the other parent. However, each parent’s income is a factor in awarding custody, but it is only one factor among several others.

For example, let’s say a husband and wife are divorcing. The husband earns $300,000 a year, while the wife earns $50,000 a year. Before the breakup, the husband was on the road all the time and only saw his children on Saturdays and Sundays, but the wife worked part-time, picked her children up from school and was home the rest of the day with them.

Even though the husband is going to keep the 5-bedroom house in the gated community and the wife is going to live in a 3-bedroom 1600 square foot condo on the other side of town, it doesn’t mean the husband is the better choice because he earns significantly more than his wife.

On the other hand, if the wife was sleeping on a friend’s couch in a one-bedroom apartment and got fired from her job, the court would be more inclined to award custody to the father simply because it would be in the children’s best interests.

If one parent earns significantly more than the other, it does not guarantee that the richer parent will win custody of the children; it is very fact-specific. As in any child custody battle, the judge would have to carefully weigh all relevant factors and make a decision that is in the best interests of the children.

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