A Child Custody Attorney Can Provide Guidance through Difficult Proceedings
A child custody attorney must be compassionate yet strong, for this particular issue is one of the most difficult and emotionally challenging of all family law matters. The law is complex and there are no set rules or solutions. Each family’s circumstances are unique to them and so too the outcome of their case.
Custody is split into two parts: legal (decisions about major life choices such as health, welfare, education) and physical (responsibility for the day-to-day care of the child). It can be ordered as “joint” or “sole.” “Joint” does not mean a 50/50 sharing. Rather, it means, that when one parent has the child, he or she is the physical custodial parent, and when the other has the child, he or she is the physical custodial parent. “Sole” means that one parent is the custodial parent. The other parent may then have, or may not, “visitation” rights. The public policy in California is that both parents are entitled to frequent and continuous contact with their children. However, what that actually looks like on a day-to-day basis is determined either by agreement of the parents, or if the parents cannot agree, by what the court finds is in the “best interest” of their children. That determination is complicated and often a long, stressful, and imperfect process. A good child custody lawyer will encourage the parents to reach an agreement among themselves: something that may not be ideal but at least one they can live with.
Absent an agreement, the first step in the process will be for one parent to file a motion for custody which needs to be served on the other parent. The parents are then required to meet with one of the mediators employed by the state (Family Court Services), for the purpose of trying to assist them in reaching an agreement. If that fails, the mediator will make a recommendation to the court which is then reviewed by the judge prior to the hearing on custody. It is here, perhaps, at the initial hearing on custody, that the assistance of experienced counsel is the most beneficial. Once an initial order is made by the court, the court retains jurisdiction to modify that order as circumstances change and the best interest of the children demand, until the child reaches age 18.
Parenting Plans and Visitation
As part of the custody process, a time-sharing plan will usually be established. In addition to the actual schedule, there are numerous other issues typically decided: exchange locations, transportation conditions, vacation and holiday exceptions, telephone access, extracurricular activities, religious preferences, health decisions, educational decisions, and so forth. A competent visitation attorney will be able to provide ideas and suggestions in all these other areas, and assure that basic parental rights have been included.