Contrary to popular opinion, parents settle 90 percent of child custody cases absent a judge’s ruling. There were 12.9 million custodial parents in the United States as of May 2020 and as of 2018, nearly 80 percent of those parents were mothers. Even though parents do eventually settle the vast majority of child custody cases (through their lawyers), child custody is one of the most contentious matters that can arise in a divorce.
Parents can disagree about where the children will live and go to school, what doctor they will see, what religion they ascribe to, how much visitation the non-custodial parent will have, and much, much more. Because there are so many potential factors that impact your child custody case, having experienced legal help is essential.
The child custody lawyers from the Vanegas Law Group believe communication with their clients is one of their highest priorities. We seek to be personable, relatable, and warm while using our considerable experience, knowledge, and skills to ensure you are treated fairly throughout your divorce, especially as it relates to child custody. We know you have choices—we hope when you are dealing with difficult family law issues you will choose Vanegas Law Group.
California Laws Regarding Child Custody
California’s Family Code Sections 3002-3042 define California laws regarding child custody. A few highlights from those laws include the following:
- Joint custody is defined as both legal and physical custody; if the two are different, it will be distinguished as joint legal custody and joint physical custody
- Sole legal custody gives one parent the right to make all decisions concerning the child’s health, education, and welfare without consulting the other parent or obtaining prior agreement.
- Sole physical custody means the child resides with one parent while the other has visitation.
- Absent a court order saying otherwise, both legal parents are equally entitled to custody of their child.
- Any custody dispute seeks to ensure the best interests of the child are the most important issue at hand.
- Parents cannot be denied access to a child’s medical, dental, and school records simply because they do not have custody of their child.
- The courts are charged with protecting children when there are allegations of abuse, prompting an investigation by child welfare services.
- If false allegations of abuse are made during a custody proceeding, the court may impose financial sanctions.
What are the Different Types of Child Custody?
There are three types of child custody in California: joint, legal, and physical. As noted, legal custody involves making important decisions on behalf of the child including school decisions, religious decisions, health decisions. If parents have joint legal custody, they are both entitled to make important decisions for the child. Physical custody refers to where the child lives. If parents have joint physical custody, then the child splits his or her time more or less equally between the parents. Joint physical custody rarely means a true 50/50 split; it can be difficult to make joint physical custody work unless the parents get along well and live in close proximity to one another.
Joint custody is a split between physical and legal custody. Sole physical custody means the child primarily lives with one parent, while the other has visitation. In rare cases—usually when there is alcohol or drug abuse by one parent, or there is a history of domestic violence—the non-custodial parent may have no visitation rights or only supervised visitation.
How Does Parenting Time and Shared Custody Work?
It’s important not to confuse custody with parenting time and parenting plans. Custody is set by a judge, while a parenting plan details how and when children are dropped off and picked up, and how much time is spent with each parent. Parents with joint custody will have a parenting plan in the same way parents with sole custody and visitation will have a parenting plan. Either way, parenting plans must include practical aspects regarding which parent will fulfill and be responsible for future commitments. The schedules of both parents and the child or children must be clearly mapped out to see who is available to handle specific activities. A parenting plan can even be created for each child to meet that child’s individual needs. For instance, if a child is heavily involved in organized sports, then a parenting plan can be created that takes into account that child’s schedule.
The following issues can be a part of a parenting plan:
- Which parent will take the child to and from school?
- Who will pick the child up from school when he or she is sick?
- Who will help the child with homework?
- Which parent will schedule—and attend—medical appointments for the child?
- How are weekends handled?
- What about holidays?
- If the child is not yet in school, which parent will be with the child during the day?
- For children in school, which parent will be with them after school or pick them up after school?
- Who will provide actual physical care for the child (arranging for sitters, feeding, bathing, changing diapers, etc.)?
- Which parent is responsible for social activities (birthdays, class trips, games, after-school practice, play dates, etc.)?
- Who will take the child to visitation exchanges?
- Where will pickups and drop-offs take place?
For the newborn through the toddler stage, a parenting plan must factor in naps and frequent night feedings, including breastfeeding. Children who are in preschool and beyond have different needs, calling for revisions to a prior parenting plan. In the state of California, the wishes of a child who is “of sufficient age and capacity to reason” must be considered. While a specific age is not provided, the older the child, the more likely a judge will consider the child’s opinion, so long as that opinion is reasoned and sensible. It is in the best interests of parents to agree on a parenting plan; if no agreement can be made a judge will likely order mediation to help resolve the dispute.
Can Child Custody Decisions Be Modified?
If you and your ex can agree on a child custody modification, you can potentially have such a modification put into place via a stipulation which is then signed by a family court judge. This stipulation then becomes the new, legally enforceable child custody and visitation order. It is important that—no matter how friendly the relationship between you and your ex—that any change is always court-sanctioned, otherwise your co-parent could report you for kidnapping, even if the two of you orally agreed to a modification. If there is no agreement between parents, then you will find yourselves back in court, potentially letting a judge determine whether a modification is warranted. The parent asking for the modification must be able to show there has been a substantial change in circumstances that warrants the modification.
How the Child Custody Lawyers from the Vanegas Law Group Can Help
If you are facing a child custody action, we want to help. The attorneys at the Vanegas Law Group have the necessary experience, skills, and knowledge. More importantly, we believe in you and will listen carefully to what you want and need as far as child custody. We will negotiate with your child’s other parent, always keeping your child’s best interests as the central focus. Contact the child custody lawyers at the Vanegas Law Group today for your child custody needs—and all your family law needs.