One of the most difficult and emotional issues associated with divorce and family law involves child custody and visitation rights. It is important to remember that your child’s well-being is enhanced if you are able to maintain as much continuity as possible in your child’s life. Your child will benefit if he or she is able to stay in a familiar home, keep existing friends, maintain a similar lifestyle, and feel the love and support of both parents and extended family. The issues of legal custody, physical custody, and specific parenting time must all be resolved when dealing with children. The guiding principal of this area of the law is what is in the child’s best interest.
Legal custody refers to a parent’s right and responsibility to make decisions regarding a child’s health, safety, and welfare. If only one parent is awarded sole legal custody, that parent, acting alone, may make decisions regarding issues such as medical care, enrollment in a particular school, etc. If both parents have joint legal custody, then both parents share in the right and responsibility to make decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child(ren).
Physical custody refers to the right of a parent to have a child(ren) live with you. Sole physical custody means that a child shall reside with and be under the supervision of one parent, subject to visitation time with the other parent. Joint physical custody means that each parent shall have significant periods of physical custody of a child(ren). Under a joint physical custody arrangement, the parties can agree to share parenting time with the child(ren) in a variety of ways, taking into consideration a child’s age, school schedule, distance between the parents’ respective homes, parents’ work schedules, etc.
It is the public policy of the state of California to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after they have separated. As such, custody and parenting time is usually shared between parents, unless there is a history of domestic violence, child abuse, drug/alcohol abuse or other extenuating circumstances. Whenever possible our Santa Monica custody lawyers assist clients to develop child custody agreements and parenting plans through mediation and settlement negotiations. This non-contentious approach is often better for children, and our firm encourages clients to try it.
Negotiating a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child can be difficult when parents do not agree. If settlement is impossible, we are always prepared to represent our clients in court and a Judge will decide the matter at a court hearing. Family court judges strive to determine the best interests of the child when making decisions about legal and physical custody and other child custody issues. The Judge will consider all relevant facts such as:
- Which parent is currently the primary caregiver of the child(ren)
- The child(ren)’s age and developmental needs, taking into account a child(ren)’s need for stability and consistency
- The public policy of the state of California to ensure frequent and continuing contact with both parents
- The effects of changing the child(ren)’s residence, school, or lifestyle
- Past abuse or neglect by either parent, or abuse of drugs/alcohol by either parent
- The parenting skills of both parents, including each parent’s willingness to promote an ongoing relationship with the other parent
The experienced family law attorneys in Santa Monica at Trabolsi & Levy, LLP guide clients through every step of the legal process, making sure that they understand their rights and their options in relation to child custody and visitation.