I help clients defend their parental rights in contested child custody disputes. At times, that means helping a client secure visitation to enhance bonding and stability. Other times, that means securing sole custody orders to protect a child from domestic violence or exposure to alcohol and drugs. To learn more about your child custody options call my office at (916) 250-1610 to schedule your consultation.
Without realistic goals and expectations, many unscrupulous attorneys lead their clients down an expensive path in child custody litigation. To prevent my clients from overspending on child custody litigation, I believe in setting realistic expectations so we can work toward a resolution and court order.
Like many child custody attorneys, I charge an initial retainer and bill against that retainer as I work on the case. However, unlike many child custody attorneys, I don’t believe in endless litigation that leaves clients with massive legal bills and the feeling that “nothing had been done.” Accordingly, I charge $250 per hour and accept payment by credit card.
Best Interests of the Child
The Placer County family court issues child custody orders pursuant to the best interests of the child. While an opposing spouse may attempt to use custody as a weapon to “punish” a client, I emphasize in accordance with the law that the “best interest of the child” governs the court’s decision; not parental preferences.
The best interest of the child is a broad legal standard that guides the court’s custody determination. In making that determination the court will look to certain factors from the child’s standpoint to make a custody order that provides the set of circumstances that satisfy the child’s best interests. The pertinent factors are as follows:
- Child’s health, safety, and welfare
- Nature and amount of child’s contact with both parents
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Abuse / Domestic Violence
- Any other factors the court deems relevant
Of those factors, the most important is the child’s health, safety, and welfare. Accordingly, if frequent and continuing contact with an abusive parent would jeopardize the child’s health, the court should issue a custody order that protects the child’s safety.
Legal, Physical, Sole & Joint Custody
The two types of custody in California are legal and physical custody. What we call “Legal Custody” refers to the right and responsibility to make decisions that affect the health, education, and welfare of the child. Meanwhile “Physical Custody” refers to the time periods during which a child resides and is under the supervision of a parent or other party.
One parent may be awarded both legal and physical custody. It may also be awarded jointly to both parents. When it is awarded jointly to both parents, it is called “joint custody”.
It’s important to distinguish between the type of custody and the parent to whom it is awarded because this can factor into future potential court orders, such as whether a parent is allowed to relocate and transfer the child from one school to another.
When one parent is awarded sole legal custody, it means that the parent has the right and responsibility to make decisions that will affect the health, education, and over-all welfare of the child.
Sole legal custody must be distinguished from sole physical custody, which means that the child resides with the parent who is awarded sole custody and is under the supervision of that parent. Sole physical custody is also subject to court-ordered visitation by the other parent.
When a parent is awarded sole legal and physical custody, it means that the child lives with the parent and the parent has the right and responsibility to make decisions regarding the welfare of the child.
Joint custody can be further classified into two categories: “Joint Physical Custody” and “Joint Legal Custody”.
Joint Physical Custody means that each parent gets a significant amount of time where the child resides with each of them. It must be shared in a way that assures the child frequent and continuing contact with both parents. An award of joint physical custody does not necessarily mean that each parent gets equal shares of the child’s time. The court will specify in its order the times of physical control as well as the rights of each parent during the times when the child resides with them.
Joint Legal Custody simply means that both parents share the responsibility of making decisions that affect the health, education, and welfare of the minor child. Not every decision has to be made by the parents together. The court will state in its order which decisions the parents are required to make jointly. In all other circumstances that don’t fall under the decisions enumerated by the court, each parent can decide individually. The court may also state in an order which parent is to make which decision.
Presumptions and Special Rules
The law presumes that joint custody is in the minor child’s best interest when the parents agree to have joint custody, or when they agree in open court at a custody hearing. In applying this presumption, however, the court will take into consideration the best interest factors.
There is no preference under the law for or against the options available to parents, such as joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or sole custody. The court and the family are allowed wide latitude in choosing a parenting plan that will serve the child’s best interest.
Joint legal custody may be awarded without awarding joint physical custody. The court may specify which parent is considered the primary caretaker and which home is considered the primary home for the purposes of determining eligibility for public assistance.
In counties which have a conciliation court, the court or the parties may consult with the conciliation court for assistance in formulating a plan to implement a joint custody order or for resolving disputes. The court may also refer parties to Family Court Services Program.