Does a “Hollywood Lifestyle” Affect Child Custody?
By: Dianna Gould-Saltman

            Few can forget hearing about the 1983 Palm Beach divorce of Roxanne and Herbert Pulitzer.  A flamboyant lifestyle clearly affected Roxanne’s custody of her children.  But that was there and then.  What about now?  What about California?  Does “fault” have anything to do with child custody?

            When parents disagree about custody the Court must make a decision based on the “best interests of the children.”  This has been defined as “a broad concept that involves the following principles: (i) promoting social, cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being; (ii) enabling optimal development as a productive member of our society; (iii) minimizing exposure to danger, abuse, neglect, and family conflict; and (iv) ensuring frequent and continuing contact with both parties so far as it is consistent with the above....” (Cal. Rules of Court, Appendix, §26 (f).) A determination of how either parent has, or will be likely in the future to  promote the “social, cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being” of the children is a question of fact.  The Court must base any custody decision on the evidence presented but the Court has broad discretion in the area of child custody. 

            Except in rare cases involving third parties, the question of what each parent “brings to the table” for the child is a matter of comparison.  While it is important to let the Court know facts which bear on the safety of a child, both parents will likely have some significant hand in raising a child, making important decisions for the child, and influencing the child, regardless of how the child’s actual time is divided between the parents.  Particularly “bad” behavior is only relevant if it (a) affects parenting and (b) is of fairly recent vintage.  For example, extra-marital affairs may be bad behavior but they don’t necessarily affect parenting unless a child is left along so the parent can go meet with a lover.  Likewise, involvement with drugs 20 years before may have little bearing on a parent’s ability to raise a child today but recent drug use might very well affect good judgment, exposing the child to danger, or otherwise impact parenting ability.

            No parent is perfect.  It’s important to have an attorney who knows the law in this area, can counsel clients in a way that maximizes a positive outcome for the parent and the children, and can truthfully and skillfully present the client to a Court in the best possible light.