Can a DUI Impact Child Custody in California?

Child custody is one of the most important issues brought before the Southern California family courts. The custody and control of a child are determined primarily based on the best interests of the child. A judge will consider various factors to decide child custody, including the possibility of a parent endangering the safety of a child by driving under the influence (DUI). While a DUI will not automatically take away child custody, it will be included in the court’s decision-making process.

DUIs and Child Custody in California


Driving under the influence means operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug (California Vehicle Code Section 23152). If you have been arrested, charged with or convicted of a DUI in California, expect this to play a role in the court’s custody decision during a divorce or legal separation case

Child custody in California is decided with the health, safety and welfare of the child as the court’s primary concern. California Family Code Section 3020 states that it is public policy to allow children frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a dissolution of marriage. This means that shared and joint custody agreements are the most common. However, one parent may not be given any custodial rights if there is reason to suspect that the child would be in danger in that parent’s care.


A DUI arrest or conviction on your record could demonstrate that you are at risk of substance abuse or drinking and driving with your child in the car. It will be up to you or your San Diego child custody attorney to argue that your history of DUI is just that – history. It can help to go into recovery or participate in substance abuse counseling prior to your child custody case. This can show the courts that you are not at risk of future DUIs. An action such as having your criminal record sealed or expunged can also help.

Can Multiple DUIs Impact Child Custody?


If you have more than one DUI on your record, this increases the odds of them being used against you during a child custody case. Being a repeat drunk driving offender can show the courts that you have an ongoing substance abuse disorder or a pattern of making bad decisions; in other words, it was not just a one-time mistake. 


Multiple DUIs make it more likely for the courts to view your actions as potentially harmful to your child, such as a risk of a future DUI with your child in the car. Multiple DUIs do not automatically terminate your custody rights, however. You and your attorney will have the chance to argue your case and address your multiple DUIs in court before a judge makes a custody decision.

What Happens If I Got a DUI With a Dependent in the Vehicle in California?


Several circumstances can lead to an aggravated DUI charge in California. One is being arrested for driving under the influence with a dependent or minor in the vehicle. DUI with children in the car is considered child endangerment in California. This is a more egregious offense than a standard DUI and is viewed as especially damaging in a child custody case. It is much more likely that this type of DUI conviction will impact your child custody case. The courts may decide that this offense jeopardizes your ability to take proper care of your child. This can lead to the other parent receiving primary or sole custody.

How a Child Custody Lawyer Can Help


If you have a DUI, multiple DUIs or an aggravated DUI involving child endangerment on your criminal record, it is highly likely that your ex-spouse will bring this up as leverage against you in a bid for primary or sole child custody. Prepare for this by hiring an experienced divorce lawyer in San Diego to represent you. A lawyer will give you a realistic assessment of your custody situation so that you know what to expect. Then, a legal team will build the strongest possible case on your behalf to help you achieve your child custody goals.