Child custody arrangements must be based on the child’s best interest.

Child custody issues can be some of the most emotional and contentious issues arising in a family law case. It is typically one of the first areas a new family law client will ask about. A lawyer can help you try to negotiate an agreement with the other party regarding what custody arrangements and visitation schedule each of you will have. If you are unable to reach an agreement with the other party then the court will decide.

In California, before a Judge hears and decides your custody/visitation matter, you and the other party must go to court ordered mediation to try and reach an agreement. There are basically two different types of counties for these mediations, recommending counties and non-recommending counties. You want to talk to an experienced family law attorney regarding which type of county you are in, the mediation process, and the best strategies for these custody mediations. If no agreement is reached in mediation, then the issue will go before a judge.

Judges must consider what custody/visitation arrangement is in the best interest of the child when making a child custody determination and determining a visitation schedule. A Judge is not permitted to give a preference to either parent based upon the parent’s sex. However, the Judge must consider certain things in determining what is in the child’s best interest, including:

– The child’s health, safety, and welfare

– Any history of abuse by a parent against the child, other children for whom they have provided care, or the other parent

– The nature and extent of contact with each parent
Judges consider a variety of factors which have a bearing on the best interest of the child, including for example, any habitual or continued illegal drug use or alcohol abuse, and which parent is more likely to facilitate frequent and continuing contact with the other parent. If a child is of sufficient age and maturity to make an intelligent decision the court will consider the wishes of the child in making its determination.

There are two types of custody the Court will decide on, legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the parent’s ability to participate in major decisions affecting the child, including education, health, and welfare, for example what school the child will attend. Physical custody refers to the time the child is with either parent.

Judges have wide discretion in fashioning a custody/visitation order that is in the best interest of the child. The decisions reached will have significant long lasting implications for both parents and the child. It is important that you meet with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible to protect both the child, and your interest as a parent. The Shulman Family Law Group has experienced family law attorneys ready to help you with your child custody and other family law matters. Please contact us if you need assistance in this area.