Child Custody Attorney in Los Angeles
When you are going through a divorce, and you have minor children, or if you have a paternity case in court, you will need child custody orders. Good custody orders will make life and your child's life much easier. In addition, having custody orders should minimize conflict about the visitation schedule and the exchanges, which will reduce stress for you and your child.
Before having a hearing on child custody, the court will order the parents to attend mediation and try to work out a schedule with the mediator's help. Child custody mediation is mandatory, and the judges encourage everyone to settle and work out a plan that works for everyone.
In a child custody dispute, we must present you to the court as best as possible. The family court needs to see that you are a caring, dedicated parent who puts your child's best interest first.
You must understand that the court only cares about the safety and well-being of your children. It's not about you. Our child custody attorneys know how to help families get the best possible outcome for custody of their kids. We can also investigate any allegations against your ex-spouse that might doubt their ability to parent your kids.
Contact Furman & Zavatsky to review your best legal strategy if you have child custody or visitation issues. We have over 25 years of combined experience dealing with family law matters throughout Los Angeles County.
We know how emotionally challenging it can be fighting for your children, and we will give your case the necessary attention it needs. In addition, you can call our Los Angeles child custody attorneys for a free case evaluation.
What Does the Law Say About Child Custody in California?
Simply put, child custody refers to the care, control, and financial support of a minor under 18. As noted, the court is primarily concerned with ensuring the child's safety, welfare, and health when making decisions.
California Family Code 3020 says, “(a) The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to ensure that the health, safety, and welfare of children shall be the court's primary concern in determining the best interests of children when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children. The Legislature further finds and declares that children have the right to be safe and free from abuse and that the perpetration of child abuse or domestic violence in a household where a child resides is detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the child.”
Notably, subsection (b) says “that it is public policy that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate” unless it is not in the child's best interest. The factors the court considers when applying the best interest of the child standard are listed in another family law.
California Family Code 3011 says, “(a) In making a determination of the best interests of the child…, the court shall, among any other factors will consider: (1) The health, safety, and welfare of the child. (2) A history of abuse by one parent or any other person seeking custody. (3) The nature and amount of contact with both parents (4) The habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances.”
There are two types of child custody in California: legal and physical. Let's review them below.
What is Legal Custody?
What kind of child custody orders can the court make? For example, the court can decide on legal and physical custody.
The court can address any issues regarding the visitation schedule, how the parents will share holidays with the child, and resolve disputes related to the child's health and welfare. Legal custody is the power to make decisions regarding the child:
- Education, and
This includes deciding what school the child attends, what sports or activities the child joins, issues related to medical treatment, and so on. In addition, the two types of legal custody include the following:
- Joint legal custody is the default order the court will make. It means that both parents participate in the decisions equally. Therefore, a parent's physical location is irrelevant when determining legal custody.
- Sole legal custody means one parent has the right to decide about the child's health, education, and welfare as defined under California Family Code 3006.
For one parent to receive sole legal custody, they must show that having both parents make decisions together will be to the child's detriment. For example, showing that one parent is better at taking the child to doctor appointments is usually insufficient to receive sole legal custody.
When one parent alleges child abuse or drug use, the court could award sole legal custody to one parent. Further, the court might choose this option if the parents cannot mutually decide on the child's best interests.
What is Physical Custody?
Physical custody generally refers to where the child primarily resides. However, many courts use the term “physical custody” very loosely.
The court could rule that parents have joint physical custody but then establish a visitation schedule where one parent has significantly more time than the other.
Or the judge could order that one parent has physical custody and then set up a 50/50 visitation schedule. However, most of the time, physical custody refers to the child's primary residence.
A physical custody stipulation or judgment determines what percentage of time the kids will live with each parent. The percentage of time a child lives with each parent will always depend on the following factors:
- How much each parent has dedicated to their child;
- Where the child attends school;
- Other factors considered relevant to the court.
There are two types of physical custody determinations the court can make, which include the following:
- Joint physical custody means the child will live with each parent. The court uses the factors listed above to determine the timeshare.
- Sole physical custody could only be awarded to one parent under California Family Code 3007.
Notably, this could happen for many reasons. Perhaps living exclusively with one parent is just in the kid's best interest. Maybe the other parent frequently travels for this job and is away from home, or they live far away.
Suppose there is valid evidence of drug or alcohol abuse by one parent. In that case, the court could award sole physical custody to the other parent.
The parent with physical custody is called the “custodial” parent, whereas the other is called the “non-custodial” parent. The noncustodial parent cannot be denied access to their child's records and information, such as medical, dental, and school records, defined under California Family Code 3025.
Simply put, the non-custodial parent can call their kid's school or doctor to get attendance or medical records.
Suppose the other parent is making allegations against you regarding your child's welfare. In that case, you should contact our Los Angeles divorce attorneys to review the details and legal options.
Child Visitation Schedule
The court will decide the schedule for each parent to be with the child. The judges will consider everyone's work schedule and the child's school schedule.
Where each parent lives will also be necessary, as well as how easy it will be for each parent to take the child to school during their custodial times.
Your visitation schedule can be loose if you agree with the other parent. For example, you could decide on a very flexible schedule where the parents work it out between themselves regularly without any issues.
If you have a high-conflict divorce, such an arrangement will not work as it will only create further conflict. In such cases, you will need a detailed schedule that leaves no room for interpretation.
Another visitation issue is the exchange location. Often parents select a place halfway between their residences, so everyone does the same amount of driving.
Another option is for parents to take turns driving to the other parent's house. In a high-conflict situation, the court could order the exchanges to take place at a police station to ensure safety at the exchanges.
Agreeing on Child Custody Arrangements
It is always preferable for two parents to agree on how they will share custody rights. By deciding on their terms, called a parenting plan, the parents can consider their schedules, specific needs, and their child's schedules. They can tailor their arrangement to their particular situation.
Cooperation in this manner can also set the standard for future collaboration in parenting, which can only benefit everyone involved. As long as a proposed custody agreement is reasonable and in line with California law, a court will simply have to approve it to resolve any custody matters.
However, not surprisingly, parents often need help agreeing on custody matters. This is especially true in the case of divorcing spouses who may be contentious and may each want to deprive the other of time with their child. Therefore, taking a realistic look at your options in such situations is essential, like who gets child custody while the divorce is pending.
For example, in most cases, seeking sole or full custody is unrealistic, and going to court over the matter will be costly, emotional, and time-consuming. Unless there are legitimate safety concerns, it is best to participate in divorce mediation, negotiation, or other dispute resolution methods to reach a custody agreement outside of the courtroom.
If the parents live in a different country, and the child routinely resides with both parents, Determining which country should have jurisdiction is often tricky. International child custody cases often become complicated disputes.
What is the Best Interest of the Child Standard?
California Family Code 3080 says there is a presumption that joint child custody is in the child's best interest.
If a parent decides to challenge this presumption, the family court will hold a hearing to determine the crucial matter based on the best interest of the child's standard.
As noted, California Family Code 3011 lists relevant factors that the court will consider to make a decision, such as the following:
- Health, safety, and welfare of the child;
- Amount of contact with both parents;
- Any history of physical or sexual abuse;
- Habitual or continued use of illegal drugs.
How your case is presented to the court is thus crucial. It would be best to have an experienced lawyer with a record of success on your side.
How Does the Judge Make Child Custody Decisions?
As noted above, the judges consider the child's best interest when deciding custody. This is an inclusive term and could mean different things to different people. Judges are people, too, so they might have opinions on what is in your child's best interest that will differ from what you think.
As noted, it is assumed that having frequent and continuous contact with both parents is in the child's best interest. However, the judges evaluate each case and each situation to make such decisions.
If the child has special needs, this will be considered in determining the best way to address those needs and which parent is better positioned to do so. But, again, this is where an experienced attorney can help you understand your specific situation and how it relates to your child.
Suppose you disagree or are concerned about your child spending time with their other parent. In that case, you will have to present your arguments and supporting evidence to the court so the judge can decide on custody rights, often decided after a child custody evaluation.
Having a Los Angeles child custody attorney with extensive litigation experience throughout this process is critical. You could even choose arbitration, which is less expensive and an excellent option to avoid a costly legal battle before a judge. It also keeps the specific details of your separation private.
The law requires courts to order what is in the child's best interests. Courts first presume that shared custody is in the child's best interests in every case, and in deciding whether to stray from that presumption, they consider two primary factors:
- The safety, health, and welfare of the child if a parent is unfit; and
- The benefits garnered from continuing and frequent contact with both parents.
Courts can consider various factors that will depend on your specific situation and will issue an order to determine how custody will be divided. Some factors include the child's relationship with each parent, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, history of domestic violence, and criminal charges, among many others.
In some cases, the judge could even order supervised child visitation. Again, because the court's determination is entirely out of your hands, it is better to try to reach an agreement instead of taking the case to trial.
Can Child Custody Orders Be Changed?
If you already have custody orders and want to change them, you must show that there has been a change in circumstance. Next, you must explain what changed and why the old orders are no longer in the child's best interest. Then, either parent can file a request with the court to change the current orders.
If parents agree they want a different schedule than their custody orders to specify, it is better to file the agreement with the court and make it into new custody orders. Many issues arise when parents have custody orders but follow an utterly different custody schedule. Only the court orders could be enforced if one parent decides not to follow the agreed-upon plan.
Therefore, if you and the other parent follow a schedule different from your current court orders, you should consult an attorney about the best way to convert your agreement into a new court order.
Custody orders that once made sense are no longer feasible or appropriate. If you want to modify your custody order, you must request a formal modification from the court. The court must approve the changes even if two parents agree on a modification. You can modify a child visitation schedule and physical custody.
If one parent wants to fight against the child custody modification, you must prove to the court that a significant change in circumstances warrants the modification. Having the representation of a skilled child custody lawyer is essential whether you are requesting or fighting against a modification of your custody order. Sometimes, a child might refuse visitation with the other parent.
What Makes Good Child Custody Orders?
Custody orders should be straightforward to follow so that each party knows exactly what they are doing and when. Furthermore, they should be easy to enforce if the other side is not following them, so the order's language should be clear.
The orders should take everyone's schedule into account and minimize the back-and-forth driving for the child. The exchange location should be convenient and easily accessible. The child's school is always a great exchange location where one parent brings the child to school in the morning, and the other parent picks the child up after school.
Contact our Los Angeles Child Custody Lawyers for Help
Child custody issues can be very complex and stressful. An experienced child custody attorney will help you navigate the process and ensure all your concerns have been addressed. If you decide to settle your child custody issue, you should be comfortable with the arrangement. However, if you modify it later, the family court gives the existing order substantial deference.
We have experience in all family law matters, such as complex child custody issues, move-away cases, visitation, and creating a parenting plan—our main focus is to help you reach a favorable mutual settlement with your spouse. However, if litigation and a court trial become necessary, our Los Angeles child custody lawyers are prepared to fight in court.
If you are involved in a dispute regarding child custody with your child's other parent or have questions regarding your parental rights, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Understanding the difference between physical and legal child custody in California is essential.
The assistance of a lawyer familiar with California child custody laws can often significantly impact how disputes are resolved and will maximize your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome. Contact us for a free consultation by phone or using the contact form. Furman & Zavatsky are located in Los Angeles County, California.