Appellate Review of Custody and Visitation Orders in California

In general, "the standard of appellate review of custody and visitation orders is the deferential abuse of discretion test." (In re Marriage of Burgess (1996) 13 Cal.4th 25, 32.) In In re Marriage of LaMusga (2004) 32 Cal.4th 1072, the court addressed the standard that applies when a parent files a motion to modify a prior custody order because of a custodial parent's planned move with the child. In LaMusga, the trial court "ordered that primary physical custody of two minor children would be transferred from their mother to their father if their mother moved to Ohio." (Id. at p. 1078.) The LaMusga court concluded: "Just as a custodial parent does not have to establish that a planned move is 'necessary,' neither does the noncustodial parent have to establish that a change of custody is 'essential' to prevent detriment to the children from the planned move. Rather, the noncustodial parent bears the initial burden of showing that the proposed relocation of the children's residence would cause detriment to the children, requiring a reevaluation of the children's custody. The likely impact of the proposed move on the noncustodial parent's relationship with the children is a relevant factor in determining whether the move would cause detriment to the children and, when considered in light of all of the relevant factors, may be sufficient to justify a change in custody. If the noncustodial parent makes such an initial showing of detriment, the court must perform the delicate and difficult task of determining whether a change in custody is in the best interests of the children." (Ibid.) The LaMusga court set forth the factors that a family court generally should consider in exercising its discretion whether to grant or deny a custodial parent's request to relocate with a minor child. They include the children's interest in stability and continuity in the custodial arrangement; the distance of the move; the age of the children; the children's relationship with both parents; the relationship between the parents including, but not limited to, their ability to communicate and cooperate effectively and their willingness to put the interests of the children above their individual interests; the wishes of the children if they are mature enough for such an inquiry to be appropriate; the reasons for the proposed move; and the extent to which the parents currently are sharing custody. (LaMusga, supra, 32 Cal.4th 1072 at p. 1101.) Finally, "the paramount need for continuity and stability in custody arrangements--and the harm that may result from disruption of established patterns of care and emotional bonds with the primary caretaker--weigh heavily in favor of maintaining ongoing custody arrangements." (Burgess, supra, 13 Cal.4th at pp. 32-33; see also LaMusga, at p. 1093; Ragghanti v. Reyes (2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 989, 999.)