Child custody refers to rights and responsibilities shared between parents to appropriately provide for their children. Two kinds of custody exist – legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves the ability to make important decisions on behalf of your children, such as:
- Residence, or where the child will live
- Education and childcare
- Healthcare provided by doctors, dentists, orthodontists, or other professionals
- Therapy, counseling, and any other psychological, psychiatric, or mental health needs
- Religious membership or activities
- Extracurricular activities, such as sports or summer camps
- Travel and vacation
Legal custody may be sole, in which one parent makes such decisions without needing to consult the other, or joint, in which both parents work together to make these decisions. Even in cases of joint custody, both parents are not required to reach an agreement in every situation. However, to prevent problems from developing and avoid going before a judge to solve them, the parents should openly and honestly communicate with one another and promote cooperation and collaboration while considering important decisions.
Physical custody defines which parent the children will live with, and, similar to legal custody, may be either sole or joint. Sole physical custody, also called primary custody, means the children spend the majority of their time living with one parent. In contrast, joint physical custody means the children reside with both parents. Because splitting time into two equal halves usually proves difficult, the children typically spend more time with one parent. The parent who holds physical custody over half of the time is called the primary custodial parent.
A judge may order joint legal custody but sole physical custody. This arrangement allows both parents to share the decision-making responsibilities inherent in raising a child while stipulating that the child mainly resides with one parent.
Along with determining custody, you must make decisions concerning visitation or guidelines governing how the non-custodial parent may spend time with the children. Visitation orders vary based on a range of factors and may take any of the following forms:
- Scheduled Visitation. To prevent confusion or conflict, parents may create a visitation schedule that specifies the dates and times during which children will be spending time with each parent. Visitation schedules often include holidays, birthdays, and vacations and may rotate regularly to allow parents an equal opportunity to spend time with the children on special occasions. For example, the child might spend Christmas Eve with his mother and Christmas Day with his father on odd-numbered years, then switch on even-numbered years.
- Reasonable Visitation. Compared to scheduled visitation, reasonable visitation does not follow a predetermined schedule but is open-ended and changes based on shifting circumstances. Such a plan only succeeds when both parents have an amicable relationship, communicate with one another frequently, and are willing to compromise when necessary. Reasonable visitation allows for greater flexibility than scheduled visitation but may become problematic if both parties do not demonstrate appropriate levels of responsibility and commitment.
- Supervised Visitation. In some cases, securing the safety and well-being of a child requires supervision during visits by the primary custodial parent, a trusted adult, or a professional entity. This type of visitation order often arises when a parent has not been involved in a child’s life for an extended period of time. It allows the child to slowly become familiar with the parent before they can develop adequate confidence and trust in the parent.
- No Visitation. If visiting a parent, even while supervised, carries a high chance of the child suffering physical or emotional harm, no visitation is the safest option. The child’s well-being always takes precedence, so in these kinds of situations, the parent may be prohibited from having any form of contact with the child. No visitation agreements typically result from the parent abusing or neglecting the child in the past, the parent behaving in a manner that signals they may potentially kidnap the child, or in cases where the parent is likely to abuse alcohol or drugs while spending time with the child.
In a child custody case, the ultimate decision concerning child custody will fall into the hands of the judge overseeing the case. California state statutes place a strict requirement on family court judges to strongly consider the “best interests” of the children involved. While this may seem like a vague standard, the reality is that the judge must use the evidence and facts in play when ruling on child custody and visitation. The courts will do so in a way that ensures the child will have reasonable access to both of their parents and experience minimal disruption to their life.
To decide what serves in the best interests of the child, the judge will carefully assess a number of interrelated components, such as the age and health of the child, the proposed living arrangements, the ability of the parents to properly care for the children, the emotional connection between the parents and child, the child’s educational requirements, and whether a parent has a criminal record or a history of substance abuse or domestic violence. The decision depends on multiple factors and results in a complex but legally binding child custody arrangement that aligns with state laws.
Even if they are in the midst of a divorce, leaving a decision this significant in the hands of a judge can be difficult for parents. The judge may not have any knowledge of the personal issues within the family and feel beholden to strict legal statutes, ultimately deciding a child custody arrangement that may be legally satisfactory but fails to account for the unique individual needs of the children involved in the case. This is why you need an attorney from the Ewing Law Group experienced in the complexities of child custody cases.
Child custody forms the basis of many disputes surrounding the divorce process. Many parents feel they can reach a better agreement by negotiating child custody on their own terms instead of leaving the decision up to a judge. As an alternative to traditional court-ordered custody arrangements, California law accepts written parenting plans drafted by the parents. These plans determine how decisions involving the child will be made, who will retain physical custody of the child, and what responsibilities are expected of the parents while caring for the child.
Whether you are involved in a divorce or just a custody case, it is always best if the parties can negotiate a resolution on their agreed-upon terms. Negotiating a divorce and/or custody case is a relatively straightforward process that can allow both parties to save significant amounts of money on legal fees while simultaneously expediting their case. If you and your spouse can negotiate a parenting plan that is mutually agreeable and imposes no unreasonable restrictions or requirements for your children, you have more control. It is possible to keep the child custody decision entirely in your own hands.
The Ewing Law Group will help you through every step of this negotiation process and draft the agreement so that it will be accepted by the court as a binding court order. Our attorneys possess decades of experience in family law and can help any parents work together to reach an amicable resolution. In some situations, a third-party mediator may be needed to ensure both parents can resolve any disputes and develop a mutually beneficial solution to custody arrangements. A mediator can assist in creating your parenting plan while providing actionable tips for encouraging productive exchange between parents and avoiding problems moving forward.
Once you have successfully drawn up your divorce agreement, including your child custody agreement, your attorney will submit the proposal to a judge for final review and approval. At this point, the judge simply verifies that the proposed divorce agreement does not violate California state law and is reasonable given the circumstances and needs of the children.
In situations where the parents are unable to reach an agreement on their own, hiring the services of a Sacramento child custody attorney becomes absolutely imperative. The litigation process in such a case tends to involve a variety of factors, require compliance with certain court procedures, and take a lengthy amount of time to conclude. Each party may conduct discovery by requesting information from the other party that may be relevant to the case, including medical, educational, and financial records. The court will hold a hearing in which parents offer testimony arguing the validity of their custody claim and can request the court call witnesses familiar with the unique circumstances of the case to support this claim.
After you have negotiated or litigated your way to a child custody case, new issues may arise that neither party predicted. Unpredictable things happen all the time. A sudden change in your income, the need to move, the development of a medical issue, or the educational needs of the children could compel you to revisit your custody case. Family law offers the unique opportunity to submit post-judgment motions to alter existing family law orders. For example, if you have been granted a set amount of visitation and are required to pay child support, you may need to file a post-judgment motion if you lose your job and are unable to pay the full amount of child support each month.
You may also be in a different situation than when the visitation orders were made and would like more time with your children. It is also possible to file a post-judgment motion to account for moving, changes in children’s needs, and medical care. Your child custody attorney can help you assess the recent changes in your life and help you determine the most appropriate time and method for filing post-judgment motions.
When you need legal representation in a case where the custody of your children is on the line, it is essential to choose an attorney who has established experience handling cases similar to yours. At the Ewing Law Group, our attorneys have more than 30 years of experience handling cases involving complex child custody and visitation issues. If you want a Sacramento child custody lawyer with years of professional experience and a keen understanding of California child custody statutes, contact our office. Our firm is available to help you with your case.
We believe in personal attention for every client we represent. If you entrust your custody and visitation case to our team, we will do everything we can to keep you fully informed about your case proceedings. We will help you build a strong case for child custody and navigate the aspects of your case, whether you decide to negotiate or litigate.
Handling child custody decisions without reliable legal representation can be incredibly difficult. It is an emotionally turbulent issue that requires careful analysis of California state law and measured judgment of the unique aspects of your family life that only an experienced child custody lawyer can provide. If you are concerned about child custody and visitation, reach out to the Ewing Law Group today to schedule a consultation with one of our child custody attorneys.
Contact us today by calling (916) 883-0460 or submitting the form on our website