Law Library - Child Custody
As a beginning, California Family Code 3020 is the founding policy that supports the Child Custody laws in California. Specifically:
The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to ensure that the health, safety, and welfare of children shall be the court’s primary concern in determining the best interests of children when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children. The Legislature further finds and declares that children have the right to be safe and free from abuse, and that the perpetration of child abuse or domestic violence in a household where a child resides is detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the child
The Statute then adds:
The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy, except when the contact would not be in the best interests of the child, as provided in subdivisions (a) and (c) of this section and Section 3011.
In a nutshell, when hearing a child custody dispute or petition for visitation, the court will ALWAYS view the arguments from the point of view of the child. It will look to those circumstances which will provide him or her with the best chance to prosper when making its ruling.
In an ideal world, custody would always be shared if a parental relationship were to break down, and both parents would always agree to serve the best interests of the child(ren) after they separate. However, circumstances aren't always ideal. A history of abuse (domestic and/or child), A history of alcohol or drug use, Neglect and even, in some cases, the child's preference can all be factors for which a court may limit or terminate Physical and/or Legal Custody
Generally, custody and visitation concerns are first addressed in mediation. The court doesn't intend to take the place of the parents when questions of custody are before it. Its job in these circumstances, is to provide reasonable opportunities for the parents to come to a parenting arrangement, themselves. In Monterey County where I practice, there are 3 levels of mediation that are available to parents, and the court's involvement in making decisions about custody and visitation progresses which each step needed to reach an agreement.
For the first step, both parents sit down with a mediator who has a background in both social work and the court system, in the hopes of working out an agreement, amicably. The mediator will guide and advise the parents as they all work to find an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached in the first step, the second step is called Child Custody Recommended Counseling (CCRC). CCRC is much like the first step except in this step, the mediator may make a recommendation to the court about custody and visitation if the parents cannot come to an agreement themselves.
If parents are unable to find an agreement working with a mediator, the last step is Custody Evaluation (CE). CE is ordered by the court and process is defined and monitored by the court. In this step, parents meet with a licensed therapist who evaluates the circumstances surrounding the parents and children though conversations with both the parents and the children. A therapist will usually arrange sessions with the parents and children together, then arrange another set of sessions so he/she can talk to each person, separately. When finished with the evaluation, the therapist reports his/her findings and recommendations to the court, and the court (in my experience) generally follows those recommendations. Custody Evaluation is the last and most expensive step in the “mediation” process. In Monterey County, an evaluation can cost upwards of $3000.
The reasoning behind California Child Custody Laws is quite straight-forward. Navigating the process between competing concerns or agendas is not. Call my office for a free consultation and affordable help.