Family Law

Family Law News VOLUME 45, ISSUE 1, FALL 2023

MILITARY SERVICE AND CHILD CUSTODY

Written by Jeanne Murry*

With its coastal location and wide-open spaces, California is home to the largest military population of all fifty states with 162,362 active-duty and 55,537 reserve military personnel stationed at forty-one bases across the state in 2021.1 Service members can be found in locations spanning the State from Coronado to Camp Parks. These soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are often stationed with their families.

Military marriages face unique challenges, including frequent moves and long deployments; the rate of divorce in the military is around 3% per year.2 When military members are stationed within the State, the superior court has jurisdiction to hear issues related to child custody. When military parents ask the family court to decide issues of child custody, the courts are faced with two competing interests: 1) the best interest of the child, and 2) the public policy not to penalize military members for their service.

For purposes of an initial custody determination, the trial court has, "the widest discretion to choose a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child."3When the parents are unable to agree on a custody arrangement, the court must determine the best interest of the child by, "considering all relevant factors, including the child’s health, safety, and welfare, any abuse by one parent against any child or another parent, and the nature and amount of the child’s contact with the parents."4

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