Birth of William Jr.

Ana, after a brief relationship with  Garay becomes pregnant. Ana informs Garay about the pregnancy, but Garay does’t believe he is the father. Ana gives birth to a baby boy. The year is 1979. William Jr. is the name given to the baby boy. William Jr. becomes the subject of a child custody dispute that changes how custody laws are interpreted and applied in California and across the US.

Fatherhood

Ana, now a single mother, is also a nursing student. She is having a difficult time financially. So shes goes to the family court and requests that the court order Garay to pay child support. Garay demands a blood test.  A blood test is taken. Garay is the biological father of William Jr.

Making it work

Garay realizing he is the father to William Jr. agrees to pay child support. He tells Ana that they should explore the possibility of forming a family. Garay moves-in with Ana and William Jr. but after six weeks Ana and Garay realize the relationship will not work. So, Garay moves out.

Custody dispute

Garay wants consistent visitation with his son  William Jr. He wants to be a father. Ana refuses to agree to visitation or custody. Ana asks the family court to give her exclusive custody. Garay, in response, also asks for exclusive custody. A child custody disputes starts.

Child custody trial  

The custody of William Jr. goes to trial. The judge recognizes that custody determination must be based on the best interest of the child. Meanwhile, Garay is now married. Ana continues to study to become a nurse.

Garay’s case  

Garay argues that it is in the best interest of the child to reside with him since he is in a much better financial position. Garay is married. William Jr. can be cared for by his stepmom who will stay at home. As a result, William Jr. doesn’t have to stay with a babysitter or at different daycare centers. Garay – he argues- would never prevent Ana from visiting William Jr. if he has exclusive custody. Thus, Garay argues he should have custody.

Ana’s case

Ana argues that child custody has already been established.  Ana has been caring for William Jr. since birth. She should continue to have custody and nothing should change.  A change in custody would create instability in the child’s life since the there is a strong parent-child emotional bond developed between Ana and William Jr. The same emotional parent-child bond does not exist between William Jr. and Garay. So, it is harmful to change custody now. 

Family Court Judge Decides

The judge decides that it is in the best interest of the child to reside with Garay.  He is much better off financially. He can provide a more comfortable home and a living situation. He is married  which means that there is someone to care for and raise the child. William Jr. would not have to stay with a babysitter or at daycare centers. On the other hand, Ana is a working single mother. A nursing student. She is not financially stable. Ana will not allow Garay to have visitation. Yet, Garay will give Ana visitation. Therefore- the judge decides- it is in the best interest of William Jr. to reside with his father.

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Is this story based on a real case ?

Yes !

Burchard v. Garay

California Supreme Court Case 1986

Devastation

Ana is devastated. She realizes she  lost custody of her son and vows to appeal.  She wants her son back. So, she appeals. 

Appeal

Ana appeals to a higher court. The appellate court. Ana tells the higher court the family judge abused its discretion by giving Garay exclusive custody. Yet, the appeal court decides the judge did not abuse its discretion and the decision of the trial court is valid. Ana appeals to the California Supreme Court. Thus, she continues the fight.

Supreme Court

California Supreme Court agrees with Ana. The court decides the family judge abused its discretion. Increase in wealth is not correlated with better parenting. More importantly,  wealth does not correlate with the degree of love and affection a parent can provide a child. If each parent can provide adequate care for the child, then the relative economic situation of each parent should not be a factor in custody. Even if Ana struggles financially, the law allows her to get child support.

The court agrees that the best interest of the child should determine who gets custody. Yet the best interest of the child should be determined by looking into the parent-child emotional ties and established bonds. Not money. Ana was the primary caretaker from birth. The parent-child emotional bond is much stronger between Ana and William Jr.  Ana’s refusal to agree to a visitation arrangement does not justify changing custody. Both Ana and Garay have acted immaturely. However, no evidence existed to suggest Ana would refuse to follow a court ordered visitation. The family court judge made an error and thus abused its discretion.

Related Readings

Child Custody Modification

Child Custody Modification

In California, modifying a child custody order requires a proof of significant change in circumstances. However, like most rules in the legal field, this rule also comes with important exceptions. Here, I will discuss some of those exceptions. However, first I will discuss where the change in circumstances rule comes from and why it exists in child custody cases.

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