By far, the most stressful and agonizing period in one’s life is determining how to share custody of your child. There are so many moving pieces to address, and on top of it all, the legalities of custody division can become complex.

For starters, you should have a basic understanding for how custody is apportioned under California Law, and what it means.

connected-1327191_1280Legal Custody

Legal custody addresses the parents’ right to make decisions regarding a child’s health, education, and overall welfare. “Joint legal custody” affords both parents equal decision making rights with respect to their child. Absent some exceptional circumstance, courts generally award joint legal custody to both parents.

Physical Custody 

Physical custody determines where a child will live and who is responsible for daily childcare.  Under California law, the standard of review  in determining an appropriate custodial parenting plan is the best interest of the minor child. (Family Code § 3011.) Courts will consider, among other things, the age of the child, a parent’s past involvement in the child’s life (in order to promote stability and continuity), history of domestic violence, as well as history of alcohol abuse or abuse of illegal drugs.

  • Joint Physical Custody – when both parents have significant, and almost equal physical custody time with the child.
  • Primary Physical Custody – when the child primarily resides with one parent, known as the “custodial parent” and the “non-custodial parent” has visitation time subject to agreement or court order.

Visitation Schedule

A visitation schedule includes details such as the pick-up/ drop-off times and location, phone call parameters, as well as vacation and holiday schedule. When necessary, visitation schedules can address the need for a neutral or professional visitation monitor to supervise the visitations. Parties can either stipulate to an agreed upon visitation schedule, which later becomes a court order, or they can go to court.

  • Family Court Services “FCS” Mediation- Prior to a court hearing, all custody related cases must attend an FCS mediation. The FCS mediation is conducted in a private family counseling office in the courthouse and is lead by a neutral, the Family Court Counselor. The counselor will evaluate each party’s claims, accept any current agreements, and make their recommendations to the court for how custody should be allocated.Importantly, parties cannot be represented by their attorney’s during the mediation, and the mediator’s feedback is often followed by the court. Thus, it is important to be on-time and well prepared for the FCS mediation, as it may have a significant impact on your custody proceeding.

If you have questions about a current or prospective custody matter, contact Braunstein Law, a San Diego family law attorney, to set up a free 1/2 hour consultation.

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