San Diego Child Custody and Visitation Attorneys
Even though your relationship with your spouse may be rocky, it should have no impact on the relationship you have with your children. If you are getting divorced or separating, 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 over four decades. 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.
"Very professional and knowledgeable firm, especially about child custody. They will craft a case plan with you and aggressively advocate for your rights."
- AJ from Yelp
As a parent, you want nothing more than to give your children the best lives they can have. When a couple breaks up, the parents are faced with the hard task of moving on, but keeping their lives intertwined for the sake of the children. It’s no easy feat, and a lot of parents end up in court to settle the issue.
A San Diego family court judge will take a lot of things into consideration before making a custody decision, such as:
- The age of the child
- The health and safety of the child
- The willingness of each parent to be involved in the child's life
- The stability of environment each parent could provide
- What impact a change in status quo would have on the child
- Whether the parents were legally wed
- The legal paternity of the child
- Where each parent lives
- The physical needs of the child (who can provide a better environment?)
- The emotional needs of the child (who can provide love and support?)
- Each parent’s financial situation
- Expressed desires of the children (depending on age)
- Any history of child abuse by a parent, or a partner/relative of a parent
- Any prior custodial arrangements made for siblings
- The parents’ custody or scheduling preferences
When a divorce or separation involves a child, California courts’ first priority is considering what is in the child's best interests. Most courts believe that an equal relationship with both parents is important in a child's emotional and social development, which is why they prefer a joint custody arrangement. However, if the court is concerned for the child’s health or safety, it will grant sole custody to one parent.
In addition to joint and sole, custody can also be divided between legal and physical custody:
- Legal Custody: Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make legal decisions for a child, including decisions about where the child goes to school, what medical treatment the child can receive, and other aspects of the child’s welfare. Legal custody can be shared between two parents or given to only one of them. If it is shared (joint), then both parents must come to an agreement about each decision, or the court will have to step in to act in the child’s best interests.
- Physical Custody: Physical custody refers to the household where a child lives. A parent can have sole physical custody, meaning the child lives with that one parent, or joint physical custody, where the child lives with both parents at different times in different homes. Most divorced parents have joint physical custody, where the children live with one parent on school days and stay with the other parent on the weekend or during vacations. Courts prefer for parents to have an equal amount of time with their children. Typically, if one parent has sole physical custody, then the other parent will have visitation.
San Diego courts actually prefer to take a hands-off approach when it comes to custody arrangements. They expect both parents to come to a mutual agreement and stick with it. If the court feels that there is a conflict or that the child may be put in danger, a judge may step in. Remember, the court’s job is to act in the best interests of a child, not to settle disagreement between angry exes. The presiding judge will carefully review the child’s situation before making final decisions and issuing a custody order.
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. Such visitation is overseen 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.
Visitation is both a right and a responsibility. When a court grants a parent visitation, it expects that parent to follow all rules and guidelines outlined in the agreement. That means the non-custodial parent should pick up and return the child on time and work with the custodial parent when there are scheduling conflicts.
In turn, the custodial parent should honor the non-custodial parent’s right to see their child. If the custodial parent tries to limit visitation time, suddenly changes the schedule, or denies the non-custodial parent visitation, he or she is in violation of the court order. When this occurs, you should contact a family law attorney to discuss your options. The custodial parent should honor your agreement, and any violation may be grounds for court penalties.
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 their custody arrangements. 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.
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 if they do not exercise 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.
Thomas M. Huguenor and his team at Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C., understand that nothing is more important than one's child. As a certified family law specialist, Tom has proven his knowledge and expertise in the area of child custody. It is important to protect your future and the best interests of your children when it comes time to hire an attorney. Retaining a San Diego family law attorney with more than four decades of experience ensures that your interests are taken care of.
Our firm handles a variety of matters involving child custody. We have a proven track record dealing with all matters concerning California family law and specialize in every aspect surrounding custody. Cases we handle include:
- Joint Child Custody
- Sole Child Custody
- Child Relocation
- Grandparents Rights
- Parental Abduction
- Parental Alienation
- Third Party Visitation
Every family is unique and has its own special set of needs. During your initial consultation, we will ask questions to learn more about your goals and priorities when it comes to your children. Our office prides itself on fighting for the issues that matter most to our clients. We have a reputation of gaining positive results in cases that others do not believe are possible. With our legal expertise, you can feel confident that you are investing in your future. Contact our San Diego child custody lawyers today at (858) 458-9500 and schedule a free consultation.
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