"Status Quo" and Custody / by Cassandra Hearn

Some of the most hard-fought battles in family law involve child custody and visitation. Parents often have very strong opinions on what type of visitation schedule will best serve their children. On balance with a parent’s desire to set a parenting schedule that they believe adequately and accurately reflects their child’s best interest is a child’s need for stability. Children thrive with consistency and stability, which the California courts widely acknowledge and accept. Accordingly, when deciding which parent’s proposed visitation schedule is best for the child, courts will give a lot of weight to what has been the status quo.

In the context of child custody cases, “status quo” means the way parents have historically gone about caring for children, or how they have had their visitation and custody arrangement done. Where a child is doing well under a current arrangement between parents, a court is less likely to change that particular status quo. Courts favor providing a consistent experience for children, even throughout a divorce or custody battle. Accordingly, the parent who seeks to enforce a well-functioning status quo will typically have the upper hand. A parent who is not satisfied with the current status quo custody or visitation agreement or order will have the task of demonstrating to the court why continuing the arrangement is not in the child’s best interest in addition to showing that his or her alternative proposal is in the child’s best interest.

There are some important exceptions to the general rule that the status quo is likely to prevail if it is working for the children. One is where the current status quo was only established because of the temporary absence of one parent. If a parent can demonstrate that the absence was temporary and he or she attempted to maintain custody or visitation during that absence, then the family law judge is not able to consider that absence. This provision allows a parent to move out of the family residence without fear that a court will decide that he or she has willingly abandoned the children. Another very important exception is where a parent is absent due to military service. If a parent is deployed and then returns from active duty seeking to restore joint physical custody, a court cannot hold the deployment against the returning parent.

We have extensive experience helping our clients with complicated custody issues. Call us today at 619-800-0384 for an appointment to talk about how we can help you and your children.