Custody & Visitation Learn Your Parental Rights and Responsibilities After Separation The State of California defines custody of a child in several terms (Cal. Fam. Code §§3002-3007). Joint physical custody means that each of the parents shall have significant periods of physical custody. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way so as to assure a child of frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Cal. Fam. Code §3004. This does not necessarily mean that the parents have to split the time with the child equally. Sole physical custody means the child shall reside with and be under the supervision of one parent, subject to the power of the court to order visitation. Cal. Fam. Code §3007 Joint legal custody means both parents shall share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education and the welfare of a child. Cal. Fam. Code. §3003 Sole legal custody means one parent shall have the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of a child. Cal. Fam. Code §3006 Joint custody means joint physical and joint legal custody. Cal. Fam. Code §3002There are several different ways that custody may be awarded in California. For example, parents may share joint legal custody while one parent has sole physical custody or the parents may have both joint legal & joint physical custody. It all depends on the circumstances in your case. Factors California Courts Use To Make Custody Decisions? The State of California prefers and encourages parents to try to come to their own visitation schedules. This is in the best interest of the child, as the parents are substantially more aware of the needs of their child than the court is. It is extremely important that you make every effort to work with the other parent to create a child custody and visitation schedule that you both can agree on; otherwise, the schedule may be created by an officer of the court. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. If you and the other parent are having problems reaching an agreement, the California Superior Courts must provide mediation for you. When you attend mediation, the relevant issues may be addressed and if there is an agreement regarding custody/visitation, then the mediator will write up an agreement to which both of you will sign. However, if you cannot reach an agreement, the mediator will provide the court with its recommendation as to what custody/visitation should be. The court will usually adopt this recommendation, so it is very important for you to be prepared. We at the Law Offices of Mark A. Reed always help our clients prepare for this. Some of the factors the mediator and the court will look at in making these types of decisions are the following: The mother and father of the child are equally entitled to custody of the child and the court will not prefer a parent or custodian because of sex. The court’s primary concern in custody decisions is what is best for the child and what will ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the child. A court gives the “best interests” of the child the highest priority. What the best interests of the child are in a given situation depends upon many factors, including: The court will normally favor the parent who will best maintain stability in the child’s surroundings. There is no set standard as to what constitutes “stability,” but a judge looks for continuity in a child’s life. To the degree possible, a judge will try to maintain a child’s school, community, and religious ties. It is considered in the best interest of the child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents, i.e. the ability and willingness of the parent to foster healthy communication and contact between the child and the other parent. When granting custody to a parent, the court will consider which parent is more likely to encourage the child to have frequent and continuing contact with the other parent. It is not considered in the best interest of the child for the child to reside or be with a parent who has a history of abuse, domestic violence, or substance abuse. The child’s age, gender, mental and physical health. The mental and physical health of the parents. The love and emotional ties between the parent and the child, as well as the parent’s ability to give the child guidance. What the parents have been practicing since the date of separation. The above list is not all-encompassing. They are just a small portion of what may be considered. It is also important to note that Courts cannot deny your right to custody or visitation just because you were never married to the other parent, or because you or the other parent has a physical disability, or a different, or minority lifestyle, religious belief or sexual preference. Custody/visitation issues are some of the most emotional and hardest issues involved in a divorce/separation case. The Law Offices of Mark A. Reed is here to help you to amicably resolve these issues, but if they cannot be resolved amicably they have the experience and aggressiveness to protect your rights. How To Reduce Custody-Related Conflict Between Parents Remember: The way you and the other parent act affects your children. Here are some tips on how to talk to each other: Be polite, just like you would be at work. Do not use bad language or call each other names. Stay on the subject. Don’t talk about other issues. Focus on doing what is best for your child. Control your emotions, just like you would do at work. If you can’t stay in control, agree to talk at another time. Be clear and specific when you talk to the other parent. Write things down and keep businesslike records of your agreements and appointments. Do not change plans without first discussing the change with the other parent. To be sure each parent has the same information, write down what you have talked about and send a copy to the other parent. Keep your promises. Your children need to be able to trust and rely on you. This is very important right now. Do not talk about custody problems if one of you is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Do not talk about custody if the children are around. When you pick up or drop off the children to the other parent, say only “hello” and “good-bye.” Do not send messages to the other parent with your child. Try to talk to teachers, doctors, or other involved professionals together. This can help resolve differences of opinion about what is best for your children. If the child is with you, you are responsible for the child’s daily care. But, do not make any important changes in the child’s educational or medical care without first discussing it with the other parent. Above all, try to work with the other parent for the good of your children. Do this for your children’s happiness and success in life. They will feel more comfortable and secure and know that you both cared enough about them to make their life free of conflict. While the above might be difficult to do, in the long run, it will benefit the child/children.