When it comes to divorce, one of the most sensitive subjects is child custody. If child custody happens to be an area of dispute and there is a large disparity in the parents’ incomes, the poorer spouse can worry that he or she will not win the fight because their spouse earns a significantly higher income.
In such cases, the poorer spouse may think something to the effect of: “My spouse can afford a big house and all these nice toys, and all I can afford is a two-bedroom condo on the other side of town. Will I lose the battle all because I don’t have nearly as much money?” This type of question comes up a lot, especially when there’s a wide gap between the parents’ annual salaries.
Best Interests of the Child Doctrine
Does the richer parent always win the child custody battle? No, that is not the case at all. While each parent’s incomes will be evaluated and factored into the whole equation, income alone is rarely the basis of a child custody decision unless the poorer parent is out of work, cannot afford to support themselves, and does not have their own place (a rare circumstance in high-net-worth divorces since spousal support is often involved).
When two parents are fighting over custody and one parent has a lot more money, the judge will consider all relevant factors, not just the parents’ incomes. For example, it’s very common for homemakers or stay-at-home parents to stay out of the workforce to care for the couple’s children. Such a parent may have been caring for the children full-time for years and therefore he or she established a strong bond with their children.
In the event of a divorce, the stay-at-home mom or dad has to go back to work, but since they were out of the workforce for so long, their job skills may be outdated or they may need to go to college so they can earn a bachelor’s degree and become employable.
California judges appreciate the contributions of a homemaker and do not hold it against them. Instead, the judge may be apt to accommodate this parent so he or she can get back on their feet and this does not involve punishing him or her by taking the children away from their care, especially when it’s what the children have been accustomed to. It all comes down to the best interests of the child doctrine.
When the Richer Parent Wins
“Can the richer parent win custody?” Absolutely, but it’s not necessarily because they are richer; that’s rarely the sole reason for awarding the richer parent custody. In these situations, the decision to award custody to the richer parent comes down to the best interests of the child as we mentioned earlier.
For example, if the poorer parent has a severe mental illness, a substance abuse problem, or if they have a history of domestic violence, the court may give custody to the richer parent simply because it makes the most sense, not only because of their wealth.