One of the most stressful and difficult issues in any divorce or post-divorce situation is that of child custody and visitation. As a parent, you might be concerned about losing control of the relationship you built with your child, how the structure of your child’s life will be affected, and how to ensure the continuity of his or her life through custody, visitation, and living arrangements. These concerns can cause immense anxiety, leading to protracted courtroom battles that are stressful and emotional for the entire family.
At TRABOLSI | LEVY | GABBARD LLP, our Los Angeles child custody lawyers understand how stressful and emotional this issue can be for any parent. After all, we have represented mothers and fathers during various child custody matters in Los Angeles since 1990. Led by three Board-Certified Family Law Specialists, our legal team is well-versed in the statutes, case law, and procedures pertinent to this issue. We are also familiar with the local courts and their personnel and have developed an understanding of how judges operate and relate to this critical issue. As your advocates, counselors, and representatives, we strive to help you achieve the results you seek.
Family law courts will look at many factors in determining child custody and visitation. However, the overriding principle for courts in California is to make decisions based on the child’s best interests.
In California, child custody falls into two separate categories:
- Legal custody, in which a parent is given the responsibility and right to make important life decisions, such as those involving medical care, education, religious upbringing, safety, and other important aspects of a child’s well-being; may be awarded jointly or solely to one parent
- Physical custody, which gives a parent the right to have the child reside with him or her; may be awarded jointly in which case parenting time may be close to equal or solely where the child will live only with one parent with a more reduced visitation schedule for the other parent
What Does the Judge Look for in a Child Custody Case?
Judges in family courts exercise discretion in deciding issues of child custody after hearing all of the evidence. However, their decision must account for a variety of factors prescribed by California law.
Other factors that the courts must consider in making a custody decision include:
- Which parent has been the primary caregiver of the child thus far
- The age and developmental needs of the child
- The effect of changing the child’s residence, school, and accessibility to friends, may have on him or her
- The willingness and likelihood of a parent in encouraging the child to have a continuing and healthy relationship with the other parent
- The parenting skills of both parents
- The work schedules and other commitments of both parents
- The preferences of the child, should he or she be mature enough to decide
Issues of abuse, addiction, and mental health can have severe implications for child custody and parenting time. Sometimes parents have legitimate concerns about the welfare of a child. Sometimes one parent will shamelessly paint the other as unfit to gain an advantage in divorce and custody proceedings. At TRABOLSI | LEVY | GABBARD LLP, our Los Angeles child custody attorneys aim to de-escalate these tense situations and focus on realistic solutions rather than drastic actions and bitter custody battles.
What Is an Unfit Parent in California?
Sole physical custody and sole legal custody are rarely granted in California. The California family courts adhere to the philosophy that children are best served when both parents are actively involved in their children's lives. But what happens if a judge rules one parent to be "unfit"? The more basic definition of an unfit parent is "one who fails to provide for the child and to ensure their wellbeing". Obviously, being ruled unfit can have strong consequences on your custody and/or visitation rights. That said, there are also penalties for those who wrongfully accuse someone of being unfit. This is where you will need to speak with our attorney and receive guidance on what steps to take.
Some of the factors a judge will evaluate when ruling on the fitness of a parent include:
- Whether or not the person has had a history of alcohol or drug abuse
- If there are any signs of physical or psychological abuse from the child(ren)
- If there is evidence of sexual molestation
- Whether domestic violence in the home has occurred
- If the individual in question has a mental health issue that inhibits them from carrying out their role as parent and guardian.
- Whether age-appropriate limits have been set within the household. What measures are taken to protect the innocence of the child?
These allegations are usually accompanied by a petition for sole custody or a reversal of primary custody from an experienced custody lawyer. The accused parent may be subjected to restraining orders and allowed only supervised visitation—if any contact. Children are pulled into the middle, subjected to psychological evaluations, and perhaps compelled to testify about a parent's drinking, drug use, psychotic episodes, or abusive conduct.
If a settlement is not possible, you will need skilled and aggressive advocacy in court from an attorney, whether the safety of your child is at risk or joint custody of your child is at stake. If a child's welfare is genuinely at risk, we will take action to shield him or her from further abuse or trauma, and help our client document the adverse behavior. If the allegations are trumped up in an obvious ploy for custody, we will work to show that there is no history of abuse or credible evidence that the child is in harm's way.
We have represented mothers and fathers on both sides of contested custody proceedings involving allegations of abuse, addiction, mental illness, or violence. Our lawyers are committed first and foremost to protecting children, but we will not let a client be unfairly deprived of custody rights. We make sure the court hears both sides of the story and not merely one parent's self-serving version of the truth.
Drafting a Custody Agreement
With a good custody agreement, you have a map for caring for your kids after your divorce. Custody agreements come in a variety of styles. As you may suspect, there is no single agreement that works for every situation. Still, there are some provisions that typically belong in any good custody agreement. Here are five of them.
1. General procedural information
Like all legal documents, custody agreements must address some housekeeping at their outset. In the first section of your agreement, you likely want to describe the custodial arrangement. To do so effectively, you must designate which parent has physical and legal custody. You also need to decide whether custody is joint or sole.
2. A visitation plan
If you plan to share physical custody of your children with your ex-spouse, you should include a visitation schedule in your custody agreement. When preparing the visitation plan, be sure to address regular visits, vacations and holidays.
3. An explanation of parental obligations
You probably want to share parental authority with your former partner. To avoid parenting conflicts, use your custody agreement to explain parental obligations. That is, you should try to clearly define who has the authority to make important decisions. Addressing medical treatment, religion and education is a good idea.
4. A framework for making changes
Fighting over changes to a custody agreement can be both expensive and exhausting. To minimize future arguments, consider including a framework for modifying your custody agreement in the agreement itself. Note, though, even if you have a modification plan in the agreement, you likely need court approval to change your custody arrangement.
5. Instructions for resolving disputes
You would rather focus on raising your children than fighting with your former spouse. Therefore, write some instructions for resolving disputes into your custody agreement. Counseling, mediation and arbitration are usually effective options.
Even though your marriage did not work out, you want to provide the best possible environment for your children. By giving some thought to your custody agreement, you can likely make your divorce easier for you, your former spouse and your kids.
Discuss Your Case With Our Los Angeles Child Custody Lawyer
Reaching an amicable agreement on child custody and visitation can prevent a lengthy and emotionally-draining legal battle. Such an agreement can be possible through negotiation or mediation with your spouse, which may be required before going to court. At TRABOLSI | LEVY | GABBARD LLP, our Los Angeles custody attorneys are highly-skilled negotiators and can provide mediation services to help meet this need.
We strongly encourage you to consult one of our experienced attorneys as soon as possible in any divorce or post-divorce custody matter. Our Los Angeles child custody attorney is ready, willing, and able to provide you with extensive expertise, driven by our genuine dedication to outstanding client service.
Schedule your free initial consultation with one of our distinguished Los Angeles child custody attorneys at (310) 455-8364.