San Diego Child Custody and Visitation Attorney
Child Custody & Visitation Issues in California
Even though your relationship with your spouse may be rocky, it should have no impact on the relationship you have with your children. Every parent has the right to a continuing and meaningful relationship with their children. If you are getting divorced or separated, you should continue to have quality time with your children and have a say in their upbringing. To ensure that your parental rights are secure, you'll need a written child custody and visitation agreement that is legally binding.
Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C. has been helping San Diego parents maintain meaningful relationships with their children for 35 years. Let us do the same for you. If you are in the process of a divorce or separation and feel your parental rights are in danger, call Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C. for a free case evaluation at (858) 458-9500.
Determining Child Custody in San DiegoWhen a divorce or separation involves child custody, California courts always consider what is in the child's best interests, first and foremost. This usually involves joint custody of both parents because the courts believe that an equal relationship with both parents is important in a child's emotional and social development. However, if the courts feel that it is in the child's best interests, they will grant primary custody to one of the parents. The criteria upon which this decision is made includes the following:
- The age of the child
- The health and safety of the child
- The willingness of the parent to be involved in the child's life
- Existing emotional ties between each parent and the child
- Each parent's ability to meet the child's needs (economical, emotional, environmental)
- Each parent's lifestyle
- The stability of environment each parent could provide
- What impact a change in status quo would have on the child
If the child is over the age of 12, California family courts will take a child's parental preference into account when awarding primary custody.
Types of Visitation Arrangements Possible
In most cases, the parent not awarded primary custody will still have visitation rights. Visitation agreements are based on a child's best interests and the situation of the parents. In California, there are four basic types of visitation agreements:
- Scheduled visitation: The court can work with both parents to draw up a detailed visitation schedule to prevent conflicts and confusion. A visitation schedule can include holidays and other special occasions, such as birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and vacations.
- Reasonable visitation: Reasonable visitation is an open-ended agreement where the parents work out a flexible visitation schedule according to their schedules and the child's schedule. This type of visitation agreement works when the parents get along and communicate well.
- Supervised visitation: When a child's safety and well-being under the supervision of one parent are in question, supervised visitation can be allowed. This visitation can be supervised by the other parent, another adult, or a professional agency. Supervised visitation is often ordered when one parent has a history of abuse, neglect, drug use, or other behavior that may put the child in danger.
- No visitation: If the child's physical or emotional safety is in question, an order of no visitation can be issued.
Do Children Have a Say in Visitation?
There was a time when the court’s final order for child custody was just that—final. The parent not granted custody had no say in the matter, and neither did the child. But through the years, that has changed. Now, children are given a voice in the matter. California Family Code Section 3042 states that:
- If a child is 14 or older and wishes to tell the court about any concerns or issues with a visitation order, he or she will be allowed to do so.
- The child must have the intelligence and emotional capacity to form a reasonable preference regarding custody or visitation agreements.
- The court will retain control over the examination and questioning of a child with regards to the custody or visitation order.
- If the child is under the age of 14 and wishes to tell the court about visitation or custody preferences, the court has the discretion to allow testimony if it "in the best interests of the child."
- Even when a child is over the age of 14, the court can deem that it is not in the best interests of the child and refuse to allow testimony.
Essentially, children are granted the opportunity to express their wishes, unless a court thinks voicing those concerns could hurt them. This comes as a shock to many parents, as it’s during the teenage years that many adolescents are at their most rebellious and may refuse visitation for any reasons, such as the non-custodial parent takes a more disciplinary role than the custodial parent.
However, allowing a child to speak in court does not necessarily mean that the judge will change a custody agreement. He will simply hear what the child has to say. The testimony may be heard by the judge alone, or with the parents or lawyers present. The court may leave the visitation order as it is, or amend it by ordering court-ordered counseling, reunification, or other mediation efforts to help mend the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent. The judge may also appoint someone to act as a lawyer for the child.
For a child’s testimony to be heard, the custodial parent must file a formal request with the court expressing that the child has voiced a preference in the matter. While filing this request, the parent must make the child’s wishes clear but not attempt to influence the decision in any way.
When a Child Refuses to Obey a Custody Order
What will happen if a court has ordered visitation and the child refuses to comply? If it is a younger child, there is a good chance the custodial parent will be held in contempt of court, since parents generally have reasonable control over their younger children. But when the child is older, such as a teenager, it becomes a bit unclear, as children at this age are harder to control or to force to visit someone they don’t want to. In the case of an older child who continues to refuse to abide by a visitation order, it will be up to the family court judge to determine whether or not to comply with the child’s wishes or to hold the custodial parent in contempt of court.
Contact a Dedicated San Diego Family Law Attorney
If you are a parent involved in divorce or separation proceedings, you'll want an experienced San Diego family law lawyer to oversee any child custody and visitation agreements you engage in. Call Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C. today for a free consultation at (858) 458-9500.
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