Posted on August 23, 2017 in Child Custody
Recent celebrity news about Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams and his child custody case tells us that his wife is asking for sole custody, saying he is subject to rage and a “revolving door” of women. Read the full story here at TMZ.com. Sole custody is not the preferred parenting arrangement and is applied under relatively drastic circumstances.
Custody refers to the parenting arrangement for a child. Specifically, who has supervision over the child (physical custody), and, who has the right to make health and education decisions for the child (legal custody)?
California Family Code section 3020 states that it is the “it is the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents . . . and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy, except where the contact would not be in the best interest of the child . . .” (Emphasis added.)
That same section also states that “public policy of this state to assure that the health, safety, and welfare of children shall be the court’s primary concern in determining the best interest of children when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children. The Legislature further finds and declares that the perpetration of child abuse or domestic violence in a household where a child resides is detrimental to a child.”
So, on the one hand, contact with both parents is preferred. On the other hand, California courts want to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of a child, i.e., the child’s “best interest.”
So, in our example of Jesse Williams, are allegations of rage and frequent dating enough to grant sole physical and legal custody? It depends. The judge may take a look at the factual basis for these allegations to first determine whether they are true. If they are, the judge may look at evidence of what impact this behavior has on the children.
If there is a finding of domestic violence, there is a legal presumption that it will be detrimental to the child to be in the care of the person who committed domestic violence. (Note: there is no allegation specifically of domestic violence in the news article about Mr. Williams’ case. This point is for illustrative purposes only.)
Also, does a doctor say the children exhibit negative symptoms from the serial dating behavior or the fits of rage if either allegation is true? Judges are sensitive to the psychological impact that parents can have on a child, but there must be credible evidence (i.e., a professional medical opinion). You can see, it is a fact-intensive job for a judge to get to the bottom of what custody arrangement will be in the child’s best interest per California’s public policy.
As a side note: Although celebrities face much more media and public scrutiny than the average person when they are going through a divorce, they are not the only people who have to publicly disclose information in their divorce case. Almost every divorce file is public record.