Child custody is one of the areas where tensions and emotions run at a constant high. This is unsurprising. After all, you are discussing the care and protection of your baby boy or girl, and we know that you do not take this lightly. That’s why you’re looking for a lawyer who will pour their all into their case, acting as your determined and powerful advocate. We want you and your child to have a safe and fulfilling future, which is why we provide compassionate and meticulous care for both of you. In this article, we hope to provide you with some general information regarding child custody in Los Angeles, California. However, know that the details will change depending on your case, so please do not take this as personalized legal advice. Rather, call us for a Free Case Evaluation so we can help you with your specific situation.
There are two main types of custody over a child – legal and physical. Legal custody gives the custodial parent(s) the right to make decisions regarding their son or daughter. Legal custody rights can include, but is not limited to:
Legal custody is most often joined custody when both parents hold equal legal rights to make decisions for their son or daughter. In this case, the parents do not always have to agree on the decisions and one parent can make a decision for their child without consulting with the other parent. However, if the other parent disagrees with the decision the other made, he or she can take it to court and it could cause problems. Thus, for major decisions, it is best to communicate with your former partner. If one parent is deemed unfit or unable to make decisions for the child, the court can award the other parent sole legal custody, which means that they retain the full legal rights to make all (or most, depending on the ruling) decisions over the child.
Physical custody denotes where the child will live permanently. Similar to legal custody, physical custody can be joint or sole. Shared physical custody means that the child lives with both parents for equal amounts of time. Sole or primary physical custody means that the child spends all or the majority of their time living with one parent. If the child lives mainly with one parent, then the court can grant the other (called the non-custodial parent) visitation rights. Visitation rights are different than physical custody, even if the child visits with the non-custodial parent for long periods of time since the child is not legally residing with them.
Many times, the final child custody decision will grant both parents a combination of joint and sole physical and legal custody. For instance, one parent may have sole physical custody over the child, but both parents share legal custody and have the equal rights to make decisions for the child.
In Los Angeles, child custody is usually brought up during divorces or legal separations. However, unmarried parents often find themselves in child custody battles as well, and we will discuss that further down in the article. For couples going through a divorce, determining who gets physical and legal custody over your child can happen in a couple different ways. You can either come to agreement between yourselves and have a child custody attorney draft and review the settlement. Or you can each hire your own child custody lawyer and go through the court to battle this out. Whichever you choose, we have worked in both capacities within Los Angeles county courtrooms, and can provide meticulous, persuasive, and powerful legal representation to ensure that your rights as a parent are protected. For more details on the methods of attaining child custody that are discussed below, call us for a Free Case Evaluation.
The most ideal option for resolving child custody disputes is through negotiation or mediation. Via this route, you and the child’s father or mother will discuss the details of your parenting plan post-divorce and come to an arrangement that satisfies the both of you, either on your own or in the presence of an objective family law expert. Always seek legal counsel when undergoing child custody negotiations, since custody rights are elaborate and any uninformed decision you make could have drastic consequences on your ability to exercise your parental rights in the future. We can help you as either a shared mediation attorney or as your personal legal assistant through this process. Whether you wish us to be by your side in the long-term, walking you through the steps of child custody mediation and providing legal counsel, or the short-term, reviewing your final parenting plan and informing you of any future repercussions, we are here to help. We want you to be able to care for your son or daughter in the best way possible and are ready to fight to protect your rights.
In Los Angeles, judges often request the parents to attempt negotiation before going through court, knowing it often leads to better and faster results. Should the parents be unable to come to a conclusion themselves, the court will often ask that they meet with a mediator to try and resolve any disputes. The last resort is going before a judge and allowing him or her to make the final decisions. We know that child custody is a highly emotional and conflictual topic and attempting to negotiate with the other parent can cause immense stress. That is why we are experts at alleviating tensions and enabling civil conversation where you will be able to explain and advocate for yourself.
During mediation, you can either hire your own mediator or go through the Family Court Services to acquire one for free. While the latter is certainly the cheaper option, court mediators often hold hefty caseloads and may not dedicate the same time and attention as would your own personal mediator. Please visit this page for more information on mediation services.
If you go the route of mediation, you are often allowed to bring your own lawyer to the sessions. Some judges, mediators, and courtrooms may not allow this, however, so please call us for specific advice on this matter. Even if we are not allowed to come with you to the mediation sessions, we will always prepare you beforehand by giving you negotiation strategies and tactics, so that you can walk into the room with confidence.
Also note that if you decide to retain Schank and Associates as your shared mediator, we will be acting for the both of you, not as your personal child custody attorney. Thus, we must remain unbiased. However, if you are negotiating without a mediator or are going through the Family Court Services to acquire a mediator, we will then act as your personal aide and advocate, always looking out for your and your child’s best interest and fighting exclusively for your parental rights.
As to the actual child custody meetings, there are several topics you must discuss. Mainly, these will include the details of physical and legal custody rights – the exact amount of time the child will spend with each parent, their permanent legal residency for documents, visitation schedules, which decisions necessitate consent from both parents and which can be made alone, and so on. Always bring it back to the child’s care and well-being and avoid arguing with your partner about personal issues to ensure that the process goes smoothly. Also, make the parenting plan as detailed as possible, since this will prevent future confusion and debates.
After you’ve written up the parenting plan, you’ll be asked to sign off on the document and present it before the judge to attain his signature as well. Do not sign the agreement before having an attorney review it. Like we said earlier, parental rights are intricate and there are several decisions that seem minor but could have drastic consequences in the future. Always make sure you are thoroughly informed before tying your signature to the document, since this will be held over you should arguments arise in the future.
Of course, we know that many parents have tried time and time again to negotiate with their former partners, but just cannot come to an agreement. We understand. After all, you care deeply about your child and it can be incredibly difficult to agree on custody terms or to even trust your partner enough to grant them any rights. That is why we are prepared to enter the courtroom with you and fight tirelessly to protect your child.
First, you must open a child custody case or have a family law case already open within Los Angeles County courts. As stated previously, custody is typically tied to a divorce or legal separation, but it can also be part of a parentage case, a child support case, a domestic violence restraining order, etc. However, if there is no case open already, then you can open one specifically for child custody.
After the case is open in Los Angeles courts, you can formally request child custody rights or visitation rights as needed. The petition you will file is immensely important, as the judge will examine how it is written (the language used, grammar, wording, etc.) to determine the amount of attention and care you will put forth in the future. Thus, always have an experienced child custody attorney edit the request before you submit it, to ensure that you gain the judge’s favor right off the bat.
There are several different forms for child custody that Los Angeles County will request of you. They depend on what you are specifically requesting and what type of case you already have open in the court. To acquire the specific forms you need for your individual situation, give us a call or look at the Los Angeles Family Court website. Make sure that these forms are filled out correctly to avoid difficulties in the future.
If you and the mother or father were never married and are now going through a child custody battle, you must go through additional steps. First, you must prove parentage (or paternity). Married couples are assumed to be the biological parents of their children, but unmarried couples are not treated the same way. You must prove that you are the natural mother and father of the child before you can request financial support, visitation rights, or custody over your child. This can be a highly stressful and intricate matter, so recruiting a child custody attorney before you begin the process is essential for the most satisfactory results.
The judge will base every child custody decision on the answers to this question: what is in the child’s best interest. He or she will consider what will best provide for the child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being. Most often, the child is best cared for by both parents equally, since they can split the responsibilities and costs. Yet if you believe that the other parent is not at all fit to have custody over the child, please let us know exactly why, so we can begin crafting a persuasive case to the judge and protect your child.
Another important consideration will be the child’s current and past living situation. Many times, the boy or girl grew up with only one parent or spent the majority of their time with one parent. Thus, the judge will need a persuasive argument as to why the status quo should be changed. If you have not spent much time with your child through the years and now wish to rebuild the bond between you, tell us all the factors that prevented you from visiting them consistently so we can persuade the judge that the status quo is not the most beneficial situation for the child and that you should be allowed more involvement in their lives.
Of course, some parents are simply not fit to raise a child. There are many criteria of an unfit mother or father. Mainly, the judge will look at the parent’s ability to provide for their child (including a knowledge of what the child needs and how well the mom or dad is able to meet those needs). They also examine the parent’s behavior outside of raising the child, including their personal activities and the way they present themselves. Of course, past history also has an effect on competency rulings, such as how involved they’ve been in the child’s life or whether they’ve had criminal convictions or a history of neglect, abuse, violence, or addiction. If you believe your partner is unfit for any reason, let us know. We can help you show the judge exactly what unqualifies them as a capable parent in effort to protect your child. Also, know that your spouse will likely bring up any past situations to attack you in court. Thus, it is important that you inform us of anything that could potentially damage your case.
In California, if the child is 14 years old or older, their choice of who to live with will also weigh heavily on the judge’s decision. Sometimes, the judge will listen to children younger than this if they feel they are mature enough to make a decision. Of course, the judge can disagree with the child if he feels it is in your son or daughter’s best interest. However, the child’s preference is not the end-all. Rather, it is a combination of all the aforementioned factors that will influence the judge’s decision.
A great misconception many people hold is that California is a “mother’s” state. The judge is never allowed to base his decision solely on gender. Rather, they give child custody and visitation based entirely on what is best for the child.
Another concern parents have is whether the judge will separate siblings. This rarely happens in California, since judges typically rule that keeping the siblings together is in their best interest, and will make arrangements based on that belief.
If you and your child have experience domestic abuse, violence, neglect, or maltreatment at the hands of your spouse, call us immediately. We can help you file a restraining order if need be and argue passionately why you should be given sole custody over your child to protect them from further mistreatment. You are more than the legal jargon and statistics. We want you to be safe and on your way to a better, happier life, and will fight tirelessly to make that happen.