SB 654 Signed into CA Law as Governor Newsom Takes Final Action of 2021 Legislative Session

Governor Gavin Newsom took action on the final bills of the 2020-21 legislative session, which included the signing of Senate Bill 654–a victory for child safety in court!

Existing law requires the court to consider, and give due weight to, the wishes of the child in making an order granting or modifying custody or visitation if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation.

This bill would prohibit the court from permitting a child addressing the court regarding custody or visitation to do so in the presence of the parties unless the court determines that doing so is in the best interests of the child and states its reasons for that finding on the record. The bill would require the court to provide an alternative to having the child address the court in the presence of the parties in order to obtain input directly from the child. The bill would also require, if a child informs the minor’s counsel, an evaluator, an investigator, or a child custody recommending counselor that the child has changed their choice with respect to addressing the court, the minor’s counsel, evaluator, investigator, or child custody recommending counselor indicate to the judge, the parties or their attorneys, and other professionals serving on the case that the child has changed their preference. By imposing additional duties on local officials, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program. The bill would require the Judicial Council, no later than January 1, 2023, to develop or amend rules as necessary to implement these provisions.

Existing law requires, when an allegation about a parent relating to a history of abuse or substance abuse by the parent has been brought to the attention of the court in the current proceeding, the court to state its reasons in writing or on the record if the court makes an order for sole or joint custody to that parent.

This bill would also require the court in those circumstances to state its reasons in writing or on the record if the court makes an order for unsupervised visitations to that parent.

Thanks to the incredible leadership of Senator Dave Min and co-authors Senators Borgeas and Rubio. Thank you to everyone who weighed in on this one – Angelina Jolie, Dylan Farrow, and child-protecting Californians from up and down the state – for writing letters and/or emails! Special shoutout to the supporting orgs who helped amplify the importance of this legislation: Legislative Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse, California Protective Parents Association, California Women’s Law Center, One Mom’s Battle, and Custody Peace!

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