California Child Custody FAQs
Child custody disputes often arise during divorces in California. However, parents may argue about custody at any time and because of many different circumstances.
Understanding California child custody laws and how courts decide cases can help you prepare for a custody dispute or negotiate a fair child custody agreement.
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California Child Custody FAQs
In this child custody FAQs article, our lawyers answer common questions about child custody and how to protect your parental rights and the best interests of your children. Frequently asked questions about California child custody include:
How Do Child Custody Hearings Work?
If parents develop a parenting plan and time-sharing agreement, they can file a request for court approval. The judge reviews the child custody agreement to ensure it complies with the law and is in the child’s best interest. However, if the parents disagree on custody terms, a parent can file a Request for Order FL-300 for a hearing.
The other parent must be served with the documents 16 days before the court hearing. The responding parent can file a reply with the court opposing the motion. The reply must be served on the petitioning parent within the time limits prescribed by law.
Generally, the court schedules a hearing date. However, the date could be extended for complex custody cases. The parties engage in discovery, including depositions, product document requests, and a “730 evaluation.”
The parties also engage in mandatory confidential mediation for custody disputes. The purpose of mediation is to assist the parents in resolving contested custody issues in the best interests of the child. Many cases are settled through mediation and negotiation.
However, when parents cannot settle their differences regarding custody, the court holds a final hearing. At the hearing, each parent presents evidence supporting their position regarding child custody. The judge makes custody decisions based on what is in the child’s best interest.
How Do California Judges Decide the Best Interest of the Child in Custody Cases?
The primary concern in all child custody cases is the best interests of the child. California Family Code §3011 sets forth factors a judge should consider when determining child custody. Factors include, but are not limited to:
- The welfare, safety, and health of the child
- History of abuse by either parent or the person seeking custody
- The amount and nature of contact the child has with each parent
- The abuse or continued use of controlled substances, alcohol, or prescribed medications
A judge may consider other factors in deciding custody in California. The court considers a parent’s ability to support the child, the stability of the home environment, a parent’s schedule, and other people living in the home. The judge may also consider the child’s relationship with other relatives in the area, school ties, and community involvement.
Does the Court Consider a Child’s Preference When Deciding Custody Cases?
A judge may consider a child’s preferences regarding custody. The law authorizes judges to consider a child’s wishes when the child is of sufficient capacity and age to form a rational preference regarding custody and visitation.
Judges decide if a child is of sufficient capacity and age to make decisions regarding custody. However, the law gives a child who is 14 years old or older the right to address the court regarding custody and visitation unless a judge determines that doing so would not be in the child’s best interests. The court must state the reasons for denying the child the right to express their opinion regarding custody.
Do the Law or Judges Give Preference to Either Parent in California Child Custody Cases?
Neither parent has preference when entering a child custody case. The courts prefer to order joint custody whenever possible. A child is believed to benefit from close and continued access to both parents in most situations.
However, there are situations where the court might not grant joint custody. Examples of cases where joint custody might not work include, but are not limited to:
- Situations where parents cannot work together to make decisions for their child.
- It is in the child’s best interest for one parent to have custody instead of granting joint custody.
- A parent is deemed unfit to have legal and/or physical custody of a child.
- The parent is a danger to the child because of substance abuse.
- The parent seeking custody raped or murdered the child’s other parent.
- A parent has engaged in abuse or neglect of the child or domestic violence.
- A parent has been convicted of sexual or physical abuse of another child.
Contact a San Diego child custody attorney immediately if you face allegations of unfitness as a parent. Your parental rights could be at stake.
What Is a 730 Evaluation in a California Child Custody Case?
When parents make allegations against each other, the court does not have to rely solely on the parents’ testimony or evidence presented by the parents. The court can order a 730 evaluation (child custody evaluation).
A child custody evaluator acts on behalf of the court to gather information to help the judge decide custody cases. The evaluator can do things the judge cannot do, such as visit the child’s home, interview the parents, meet with witnesses, review medical records, and assess the child’s daily activities.
The evaluator is an impartial party. They investigate matters and report back to the court their findings. The judge considers the evaluator’s report, but it is not the sole factor in deciding custody cases.
Is Child Custody Subject to Modification?
The California Family Code provides for modifying child custody and visitation when it is necessary and proper. The modification must be in the child’s best interest.
Either parent can petition the court for an order of modification. The parent requesting the change must prove that a substantial change in circumstances justifies modifying the current custody order. They must also prove that the change impacts the child, not just the parents.
Reasons for modifying child custody could include, but are not limited to:
- A parent must relocate for a job
- A parent is refusing to allow visitation or contact with the child
- A parent engages in parental alienation
- The illness or disability of a parent
- The child wishes to live with the other parent and is old enough to make their wishes known
- The child’s needs or schedule changes requiring a change in visitation and/or custody
The other parent can object to a modification of child custody. If so, the court holds a hearing similar to the original custody hearing. The judge must use the evidence presented in court to determine what would be in the child’s best interest for custody in the future.
Where Can I Learn More About Child Custody in California?
You can learn more about child custody by reading other articles and information on our website. You can contact us online or call (619) 866-3756 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC San Diego child custody lawyers to discuss the details of your situation.