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Understanding Child Custody Laws: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Posted by Jason Wagner | Dec 28, 2023 | 0 Comments

Parents dealing with a child custody case are generally under a lot of stress. Custody cases can be emotionally trying and sometimes result in battles between parents. That is why Wagner Family Law has created a comprehensive guide to understanding California child custody cases. Armed with the knowledge of how the court handles these cases, you may be able to set your mind at ease and prepare yourself for your custody hearing. In this article, the Sacramento, CA, child custody attorneys at Wagner Family Law will discuss child custody cases and how the court makes decisions related to your family.

Contested Custody Cases in California

In the majority of cases, parents will agree on custody arrangements and visitation schedules in mediation. When mediation breaks down, and the couple cannot come to an accord, then the case is labeled “contested.” This means that the court will have to decide for the parents what the custody arrangements will look like. This is not a good situation for either the parents, the children, or the courts. For the parents, a custody battle will cost more money and take longer to resolve. For the children, embittered parents are not in their best interests. For the court, mediation is generally preferred to litigated custody cases. For this reason, contested custody cases are reserved for situations in which one parent is generally unfit to provide emotional and financial support to the children. 

Factors Considered in Child Custody Cases

If the case goes before a judge, they will consider several factors related to the parents' relationship to the children. These include:

  • Each parent's history with the children

  • Evidence of neglect or abuse

  • Issues affecting the children's health, safety, schooling, or general welfare

  • The current custody arrangement that is in effect

  • What future arrangement will best serve the interests of the children

The Role of the Status Quo in Your Custody Arrangement

Generally speaking, courts will lean toward maintaining the status quo in a custody agreement. That means that if you have a custody plan in place, and that plan has worked well for the children, the courts will lean toward maintaining stability and continuity. However, this is not always the case. The primary decisions that the court will make will always consider the best interests of the children first. For a primary custodial parent who is facing a request to modify a child custody agreement, you would want to emphasize how the children's current situation benefits them. The court would be less likely to change a successful custody arrangement if the other parent files for a modification. 

However, if the current status quo is temporary or was put into place over your objections, you can file for a modification of a child custody agreement. You will need to argue before the court why the amendment is in the best interests of the children. 

The Best Interests of the Children

When making any decision related to child custody cases, the California courts consider the best interests of the children. But what factors make up the best interests of the children? Factors included are:

  • The age and health of the child

  • The emotional ties between the parents and the child

  • The child's ties to their school, home and community

  • The ability of each parent to care for the child

  • Any history of family violence

  • Any regular or ongoing substance abuse

The Child's Preferences 

Since 2012, the California courts have taken into account the preferences of a child who is old enough to make a mature decision on who they would prefer to live with. The child's preference, however, does not override other factors, and the courts will always render a decision that is in the best interests of the children, not necessarily what the child wants. 

Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

If there is a history of domestic violence or child abuse in the relationship, then the courts will generally consider this a factor in assigning custody. Many contested custody cases arise on the matter of domestic violence, child neglect, and child abuse. Parents who are seeking to block one parent from having custody of their child will want to ensure that they have some basis for doing so. This often includes allegations of child abuse, child neglect, or spousal abuse. The court is required to make specific findings before limiting custody to one parent.

Legal and Physical Custody in California

Child custody refers to the rights and responsibilities of each parent over their children. In California, there are two forms of child custody: legal and physical.

  • Legal custody is the right to make key decisions over the child's life. These include decisions related to their education, health care, and religious instruction. 

  • Physical custody refers to which parent the child spends the majority of their time with. In cases where both parents spend an equal amount of time with the children, both parents have physical and legal custody.

Types of Parenting Time Orders

There are four main types of parenting time orders. These include:

  • With a schedule - It helps parents and children to have a set schedule with specific dates and times that outline when the children will spend time with the parent. If there is one parent who has primary physical custody, then the children should know when they are spending time with the other parent. The schedule should include things like holidays, special occasions, and vacations. 

  • Reasonable - In contrast to scheduled parenting plans, reasonable parenting plans are open-ended. These allow parents to work out visitation schedules between themselves. This type of order could work when the parents get along and communicate well. When there is a disagreement, not having a set schedule can create problems.

  • Supervised - Supervised visitation is employed when there are concerns about the children's safety and well-being. The children's visits with the parent are supervised by a professional agency. It is sometimes used when a parent and child need time to familiarize themselves with one another. It is also used in cases where there are allegations of abuse, neglect, or substance abuse. 

  • No visitation - In extreme cases, the court will find that—even if supervised—the parent would be physically or emotionally harmful to the children. 

Talk to a Sacramento, CA Child Custody Attorney Today

Wagner Family Law represents the interests of parents in custody disputes. For more information on the services we provide, please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions or concerns. 

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