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Your question is extremely broad. However, the following information should be very helpful.
With custody matters, typically the main goals of the court should be to promote contact with both parents if both parents are able to act in the best interests of the child, place the child in a safe, stable, nonviolent environment, and encourage parents to share the rights and duties of parenthood. However, courts generally err on the side of protecting the children, thus making the focus of most courts "the best interests of the child." Factors courts choose to consider often include:
a. Child's gender, age, and health
b. Health, lifestyle, and social habits of parents.
c. Parent-child bond.
d. Parent's ability to raise child and provide for the child.
e. Community factors (school, home, religious, etc.) that may be altered by custody determination.
f. Child preference (depending on the state and the age of the child).
When one parent leaves the family home and the children, this may hurt him in a custody battle, as stability for children is often assisted by keeping the children in the marital home and as abandonment may reflect poorly with the court.
Usually, a custodial parent is entitled to child support from the non-custodial parent, provided paternity has been established. Child support is calculated according to California Child Support guidelines. California's Department of Child Support Services provides a calculator to help parents estimate what a court is likely to award. However, courts do have some discretion based on the circumstances of children and parents.
Child-related matters are major factors in life. Accordingly, before taking any legal action, a person should consult an attorney who is licensed to practice in your state about this matter. While I realize that this can be a great expense, it would be an excellent investment. If money is scarce, there may be low-cost or free legal clinics available to you for this purpose. The state bar association may be able to assist you in locating those. If there are no such clinics, you may be able to work out a payment plan with your attorney. Alternatively, you may be able to seek a loan or pay your attorney via credit card. While it is possible to represent one's self, it is always advisable to have a qualified attorney's assistance.
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You should consult an attorney who is licensed to practice in your state about these matters. You can find an attorney licensed to practice law in your state through your state's lawyer referral services:
Edited by T-USA on 10/1/2009 at 7:33 AM EST