Can a DUI Impact Child Custody in California?


Child custody concerns affect your parental rights and your relationship with your children, which makes them of paramount importance. When California courts make child custody determinations, they are guided by the children’s best interests, and as such, a wide range of factors are considered. If you’re facing a DUI charge or have a DUI conviction in your past, it can affect the outcome of your child custody case, which makes having an experienced California child custody attorney on your side well-advised.

Best Interest Factors

When determining the best interests of the involved children in a child custody case, the court takes factors such as the following into consideration:

  • The health, safety, and welfare of the children
  • If there is any history of child abuse or negligence
  • Either parent’s habitual or continual abuse of alcohol or drugs

A conviction of a DUI – driving under the influence – can work against your child custody goals in each of these categories. For example, if your child was in the car with you at the time of your conviction, it can be deemed child negligence – or even abuse (depending upon the situation)

It’s important to note that the court will consider the balance of information regarding your children’s best interests and has the discretion to prioritize factors in accordance with your unique case. In other words, while a DUI may have a profound effect on the outcome of one child custody case, it may be less consequential in another. You should not, however, lose sight of the fact that your DUI has the potential to affect the outcome of your case negatively.

The Court’s Position

If your divorcing spouse is attempting to limit the amount of time you’ll be allowed to spend with your children by accusing you of engaging in habitual or continual abuse of alcohol, a DUI conviction can serve as a valuable piece of evidence. The circumstance of your conviction, however, can play a significant role. Consider the following:

  • If your conviction was in the distant past and you’ve never had a problem again, or you went to treatment and have been sober since then, the DUI is unlikely to carry much weight in your case.
  • If your DUI is more recent and you haven’t taken any steps to address the underlying problem, the court will likely take the matter far more seriously.
  • If you had a child in your car with you at the time of your DUI, it could seriously affect the outcome of your case.
  • Additional factors that can adversely affect your case include aggravating circumstances, such as if it isn’t your first DUI, if you caused an accident that left someone else injured, if you left the scene of an accident, if you were driving on a suspended license, or if you were well over the legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC).

The Outcome of Your Case

How a DUI affects the outcome of a child custody case can vary considerably, which makes having professional legal guidance on your side critical. Potential outcomes include:

  • If the court determines that your DUI and any related drinking problem are in the past, it’s unlikely to use your DUI against you.
  • If the court determines that your DUI represents a very serious problem, it can lead to your spouse receiving sole physical custody.
  • The court can also order that the visitation with your children that you are awarded be supervised.
  • The court may require that you undergo treatment, be tested regularly for alcohol usage, or both.

Demonstrating to the court that you take the matter of your DUI seriously and that you are determined not to let alcohol interfere with your ability to make responsible choices or to be a reliable parent – such as by seeking treatment on your own – can help your case considerably.

Reach Out to an Experienced California Child Custody Attorney Today

Courts prioritize the best interests of the involved children in every child custody case, and as a result, they scrutinize an array of relevant factors in their decision-making process. California courts take a totality of factors into consideration, and the circumstances of your DUI conviction will play a critical role in how significantly it affects your case. If you have a DUI on your record, the bottom line is that it can negatively influence the outcome of your child custody case, but a trusted California child custody attorney can help.