Los Angeles Child Custody Attorney

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Whether you need legal guidance in an upcoming child custody case or are in the middle of a child custody battle, the Los Angeles child custody lawyers at Fernandez & Karney want to help you.

The child custody process is often the most emotionally stressful aspect of a family law case. While you can regain lost assets, you can never get back time lost with your children.

Our Los Angeles child custody attorneys are:

  • Compassionate and empathetic of cases involving parents and children
  • Aggressive when asserting parental rights to custody and visitation
  • Experienced in all areas of dispute resolution in custody cases, from mediation to litigation

Contact Fernandez & Karney to schedule your complimentary consultation. Our Los Angeles family law attorneys offer custom solutions to fit today’s child custody needs and expectations.

Los Angeles Child Custody Lawyer

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How Our Los Angeles Child Custody Attorneys Can Help

In child custody or child support matters, you need a Los Angeles child custody attorney with a proven track record. Although family law court orders are modifiable, it’s important to get it right the first time since the courts tend to give deference to the past order.

A Los Angeles child custody lawyer at Fernandez & Karney can help with your child custody matter. Our family law firm is passionate about providing quality legal representation through the divorce process and providing the best outcome for your child and your family through a reasonable custody agreement.

Our child custody attorneys will also:

  • Ensure you understand California’s child custody laws and their impact on your situation
  • Negotiate with the other parent or their attorney
  • Suggest creative parenting plans and custody arrangements
  • Assert or defend your legal position in any court hearing
  • Prepare and review any final court orders
  • Prepare child support orders on your behalf

Do not wait to contact Fernandez & Karney. Our child custody professionals can start working to move your family forward today.

Understanding the Child Custody Law in California

Understanding the Child Custody Law in California

Under the Los Angeles child custody law, both parents can obtain child custody, or both parents can share custody. However, they have to make child custody arrangements that can work for both of them and that both of them agree on. These arrangements are called a parenting plan. Although the judge has to make the final decision regarding custody or visitation rights, in most cases, he or she will approve the parenting plan.

However, in case both parents can’t agree, the judge will first send them to mediation where a Los Angeles, CA, Family Court Services mediator will try to help. If the mediation turns out to be unsuccessful, a child custody case court hearing will be scheduled. At the hearing, the child’s best interests, as well as the custody and visitation agreement, will be determined.

The public policy of California State, expressly articulated in Family Code Section 3020, is “to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents” after a divorce or separation. However, the state also has an interest in the well-being of minor children and denounced child abuse and domestic violence.

Under circumstances involving domestic violence, child abuse, or a threat to the child’s health and safety, as listed in Section 3030, California courts may either deny custody or visitation rights. Also, in instances where one parent abandons the child, is unable, or refuses to take custody, the other parent is entitled to sole custody. To understand the circumstances of your particular custody case, speak with one of our Los Angeles child custody attorneys.

Different Types of Child Custody Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, CA, parents are often encouraged to share both types of child custody: physical and legal custody. Both physical custody and legal custody can be joint and sole. While legal custody entails the right to make decisions regarding a child’s education, health, and welfare, physical custody refers to where the child or children will live after a separation or divorce.

A parent who has legal custody has a right to decide about the child or children’s school, medical care, sports, travel, religion, and other extracurricular activities.

On the other hand, a parent who has physical custody of the child is the one with whom the child or children will primarily live. He or she is typically referred to as a residential or custodial parent, while the other noncustodial parent will have visitation rights.

Under California law, the mother and the father (or the presumed father), “are equally entitled” to the custody of an unemancipated minor. However, according to the US Census Bureau, in 2009, only 1 in 6 custodial parents nationwide were fathers (16.7%). Notably, this number includes parents who were never married. So, although over 80% of custodial parents were women, 36.8% of custodial mothers were never married. The total number of children living in sole custody arrangements was 22 million.

Sole Custody

California Family Code distinguishes between sole physical and sole legal custody and carves out visitation rights for the noncustodial parent. If awarded sole legal custody, one parent holds the exclusive responsibility for “decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child.” However, although the underlying idea of sole physical custody assumes that the child will reside with one parent, the court has the power to order visitation.

The idea that a mother should play the dominant role in child-rearing only became prevalent in the middle of the nineteenth century, according to law professor J. Herbie DiFonzo. In the colonial era, the courts usually awarded sole custody to fathers, he says. However, the idea that a mother is the most appropriate person to have sole custody of a very young child, or the “tender years” theory, is no longer applied by the courts. California law requires judges to base their important decisions on the child’s best interests of the child.

The Los Angeles, CA, the court has broad authority when determining child custody. Thus, parents might want to consider resolving the issue by mutual child custody agreement. This may help to avoid the uncertainty and the cost associated with the court process.

When deciding to award sole custody, the court will make a decision using the standard regarding the best interest of the children. California Family Code § 3011 lists the factors the court considers include:

  • Health and safety of the child
  • Any history of abuse
  • Any other factor the court considers relevant

While the law permits the courts and the family “the widest discretion” (CA Fam Code § 3040) in identifying the best possible outcome for the child, it also requires that “the child’s need for continuity and stability” be addressed and the “established patterns of care and emotional bonds” be preserved.

Joint Custody

The term joint custody means that both parents share legal and physical custody. California Code defines it as a situation when “both parents shall share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child.”

Joint physical custody requires that each parent is allowed “significant periods of physical custody.” According to Time Magazine, a recently published Swedish study confirmed that children who live in two households with each parent, experience less stress and have fewer problems than children who live with merely one parent in so-called split custody arrangements.

This squarely contradicts the opinions, which emphasize the negative impact on shuttling a child back and forth.

Dealing with these family law matters can be stressful and overwhelming. Experienced Los Angeles child custody lawyers like those at Fernandez & Karney can make sure you are doing everything in your power to protect your parental rights.

Determining the Best Interest of the Child

California courts consider the following factors when deciding on the course of action that is in “the best interest of the child:” (CA Fam Code § 3011)

  • health and safety of the child
  • history of abuse by either parent
  • nature and frequency of contact between the child and both parents
  • use of controlled substances, alcohol, or prescription drugs by either parent

A custody decision may include allegations or a finding that granting custody to a parent would be detrimental to the child. In this respect, § 3041 of California Family Code provides that:

  • Allegations of detriment shall not appear in the pleadings
  • The court may exclude the public from the hearing on this issue
  • While clear and convincing evidence (meaning, more than “mere” preponderance of evidence) is generally required, a finding of detriment to the child is distinguished and separate from finding that a parent is unfit

The court may also order drug or alcohol testing. The test results are to be kept confidential, as a sealed record, and without more, cannot be the sole basis for child custody award. The law prohibits judges from giving a parent preference because of the parent’s sex. Also, the immigration status of a parent (or a guardian) is irrelevant, when considering child custody.

Physical Child Custody and Parenting Time Agreements in California

Physical child custody is the time shared between parents and their children. Joint physical custody refers to living arrangements where children spend a substantial amount of time with both parents. Primary or sole physical custody means children live with one parent most of the time.

The California family court presumes that children benefit from frequent and meaningful contact with both parents. This means that in cases where one parent is the primary physical custodian, the other parent is ordered some type of visitation in the parenting plan.

Visitation schedules are ordered on a case-by-case basis as all families, and their circumstances, are unique. Common visitation arrangements are as follows:

  • Scheduled visitation. There is a written schedule detailing when the children will be with each parent. These plans help to avoid confusion and can prevent conflicts between less cooperative parents
  • Reasonable visitation. These plans do not contain specific details. Parents who work well together may benefit from a reasonable visitation schedule. However, these custody agreements can backfire and require court intervention
  • Supervised visitation. Supervised visitation is ordered by the court when a child’s safety and well-being are at-risk. Supervision may be by a parent, counselor, or approved adult

Parenting time agreements need to address the authority to make significant decisions regarding the children. This authority is referred to as legal custody. It may be sole or joint.

Legal custody decisions include the following and more:

  • School
  • Childcare
  • Religious upbringing
  • Psychiatric or mental health needs
  • Doctor, dentist, and other healthcare (except in emergencies)
  • Sports and extracurricular activities
  • Travel

Parents with joint legal custody share the right to make these decisions. A parent with sole legal custody holds all of the above decision-making power. There is an exception for emergency medical treatment when a child is in the care of the non-legal custodian.

Court-Ordered Mediation in Child Custody Cases

Mediation is a dispute resolution tool used by the family court. In child custody mediation, a neutral third party, called a mediator, works with the parents to reach agreements on custody and visitation disputes and scheduling.

Mediators encourage the parents to find common ground and work through their major issues. Mediation is held outside of the courtroom and allows open dialogue and the freedom to think creatively to suit individuals and families.

Cases involving child custody determinations that cannot reach an agreement on their own require mediation in California. Mediation is scheduled early in child custody litigation, and no case may continue until after it is complete.

Private Mediation Vs. Court-Appointed Mediation

Mediation is mandatory in child custody cases in California. However, parents can typically choose whether they would like to use a private mediation service or a court-appointed mediator.

Private mediation services allow parents to choose their mediator and be active participants in a comprehensive mediation. If child custody is part of a more extensive divorce or legal separation, they may decide to continue and mediate the entire case.

Mandatory mediation through the family court is part of a larger program offered across California. It encompasses several family court-related services. The time and scope of court-ordered mediation may be limited due to the number of hours and mediators available.

Court-Appointed Mediation and Domestic Violence

There is a screening for domestic violence in cases before any court-appointed mediation is conducted. When there is a history of domestic violence, the family court does not require parents to be in the same room during mediation. The mediator also must separate parents when domestic violence is alleged under oath.

Child Custody Decisions in California

When parents cannot agree, and mediation is unsuccessful, a child custody hearing will be scheduled. At the hearing, the court will determine a child custody and visitation plan according to the best interest of the child.

California courts consider the following factors when deciding on the course of action that is in “the best interest of the child:” (CA Fam Code § 3011)

  • The health and safety of the child
  • A history of abuse by either parent
  • The nature and frequency of contact between the child and both parents
  • The use of controlled substances, alcohol, or prescription drugs by either parent

The law prohibits judges from giving a parent preference because of the parent’s sex. Also, the immigration status of a parent (or a guardian) is irrelevant when considering child custody.

A child custody decision may include allegations or a finding that granting custody to a parent would be detrimental to the child.

In this respect, § 3041 of the California Family Code provides that:

  • Allegations of detriment shall not appear in the pleadings
  • The court may exclude the public from the hearing on this issue
  • While clear and convincing evidence (meaning, more than “mere” preponderance of evidence) is generally required, a finding of detriment to the child is distinguished and separate from a finding that a parent is unfit

The court may also order drug or alcohol testing. The test results are to be kept confidential as a sealed record and, without more, cannot be the sole basis for a child custody award.

The Guardian Ad Litem

Child custody is a complex matter, no matter the context. While parental and children’s rights take precedence, the state also has an expressed interest in the welfare of minors. This may increase the number of participants involved in any child custody dispute.

Aside from institutions that may have a statutory responsibility to intervene, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child independently, depending on the child’s age. Independent representation allows children to express their custodial preferences.

Because of children’s dependence on adults, courts might undertake swift protective measures of their own accord, implicating the due process rights of the parents.

The Guardian Ad Litem’s Investigation

The Guardian ad Litem or GAL will investigate the case circumstances and present a report to the court. While the GAL’s conclusions and recommendations may influence the court’s decision, the court is not bound by these suggestions.

During a child custody investigation, the Guardian ad Litem will typically speak with:

  • Teachers
  • Counselors
  • Family
  • Family friends
  • Other adults who may have insight into the case, relationship, or living situation

The GAL will consider not only the wishes of the child but also:

  • The wishes of the parents
  • The amount of time the child regularly spends with each parent
  • The child’s age
  • The child’s developmental and educational abilities
  • Any other significant factor that could impact the child’s safety or well-being

A Guardian ad Litem can add considerable costs to a child custody matter. However, they typically benefit parents who want only what is best for their children.

Child Custody and Domestic Violence in California

Although California law presumes it is in the best interest of a child to maintain a relationship with both parents, there are times when doing so can negatively impact a child’s health, safety, and welfare. Therefore, the court carefully considers domestic violence allegations when making a child custody decision.

The court will review any allegations of domestic violence against the child or children in question along with:

  • Other children of the parent or who the parent cares for, even temporarily
  • The child’s other parent
  • A current spouse, dating partner, roommate, or another family member of the abuser

Evidence used to corroborate allegations of abuse includes but is not limited to:

  • Police reports
  • Criminal case records
  • Child Protective Services reports
  • Medical records
  • Protective orders
  • Eyewitnesses
  • Affidavits of eyewitnesses

There is a rebuttable presumption that a parent who has engaged in domestic violence or abuse within the past five years should not share child custody rights.

A parent accused of domestic violence can rebut this presumption by presenting evidence of one or more of the following:

  • Successful completion of batterer’s treatment, anger management, substance abuse treatment, parenting classes, or another program ordered by the court
  • Being in full compliance with any orders from criminal court, including terms of probation or parole or a protective order
  • Not engaging in any further acts of domestic violence
  • Showing that in the child’s best interests for that parent to have custody rights

If the alleged abuser successfully rebuts the presumption that they should not have custody rights, the judge may award custody or visitation rights to that parent.

If there is a concern about domestic violence, the court can order supervised visitation and remove a parent’s overnight visitation. In extreme cases, the state may file a case to terminate a parent’s rights.

Contact an Experienced Los Angeles Child Custody Attorney Today

When facing a child custody action, the most important step you can take is to contact an experienced child custody attorney in Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Karney are both Certified Family Law Specialists at our child custody law firm and have a combined 55 years of experience.

When fighting for your children, make sure you have a team of Los Angeles child custody lawyers with a proven track record protecting your parental rights. Call us today for free consultation about child custody matters.

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Frequently Asked Questions for Child Custody in Los Angeles

How are child custody expenses, beyond basic support, divided between parents with joint custody?

In joint custody arrangements, child custody expenses beyond basic support are typically divided between parents based on their incomes and ability to pay. Courts consider the financial circumstances of each parent and may order contributions to cover extracurricular activities, medical bills, and education costs. Agreements can be reached through mediation or legal negotiation, ensuring both parents share the responsibility. These agreements are formalized in the custody arrangement, providing clear guidelines for expense sharing to avoid disputes and ensure the child’s needs are adequately met. Commencing in September 2024, child custody add-on costs will be apportioned between the parties based on their ability to pay (Family Code Section 4061(a)).

What factors are considered by the court when a parent requests to relocate with the child?

When a parent requests to relocate with the child, the court considers several factors, including the best interests of the child, the reason for the move, the distance of the relocation, the impact on the child’s relationship with the other parent, the ability of the relocating parent to coparent, and the potential benefits or detriments of the move, including better educational or economic opportunities. The court also evaluates the child’s ties to their current community, including school, friends, and extended family. The parent seeking relocation must demonstrate that the move will positively affect the child’s overall well-being.

How are child custody arrangements determined for same-sex couples?

As with opposite-sex couples, child custody arrangements for same-sex couples are determined based on the best interests of the child. Courts consider factors such as each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs, the child’s relationship with each parent, and the stability of the home environment. Legal parentage, adoption status, and existing custody agreements are also considered. Courts aim to ensure that the child maintains a meaningful relationship with both parents, providing a balanced and supportive environment.

Besides the mandatory mediation mentioned, are there other types of mediation available for child custody disputes?

Yes, besides mandatory mediation, the parties may use private mediation in an attempt to resolve their child custody disputes. Private mediation involves hiring a professional mediator to facilitate discussions and reach a mutually agreeable custody resolution. Both methods aim to reduce conflict, save time and money, and create a more amicable resolution focused on the child’s best interests.

What are the potential emotional impacts of a child custody battle on children of different ages?

The detrimental emotional impact of a child custody battle may vary based on your child’s age. Younger children may experience confusion, anxiety, and fear of abandonment. School-aged children might exhibit behavioral issues, academic difficulties, and emotional distress. Teenagers may feel anger, resentment, and divided loyalties, potentially leading to destructive behavior. Regardless of age, children can suffer from stress, insecurity, and a sense of loss in the midst of a child custody battle. It is crucial for parents to provide emotional support, maintain stability, and seek professional help to mitigate these negative effects.

How are mental health concerns of a parent addressed during a child custody hearing?

During a child custody hearing, mental health concerns of a parent are addressed through psychological evaluations, testimony from mental health professionals, testimony from court-connected evaluators, and other evidence such as medical records. The court assesses the parent’s mental health, treatment history, and its impact on their ability to care for the child. If necessary, the court may order supervised visitation, therapy, or other interventions to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. The primary focus is on the best interests of the child and ensuring a stable, nurturing environment.

How is child support determined, considering factors like income, daycare costs, and health insurance?

Child support is determined based on a guideline formula that considers each parent’s income, the amount of time the child spends with each parent, and additional expenses such as daycare, health insurance, and medical costs. The goal is to ensure that the child’s needs are met and that the support is fair and proportional to each parent’s financial situation. California family courts use state-specific guidelines to calculate the support amount, but deviations can be made to address unique circumstances and ensure the child’s best interests are prioritized.

How does the court determine the difference between sole legal custody and joint legal custody?

The court determines the difference between sole legal custody and joint legal custody based on the best interests of the child. Sole legal custody grants one parent the authority to make major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, including education, healthcare, and religion. Joint legal custody involves both parents sharing decision-making responsibilities. Factors considered include the parents’ ability to cooperate, communicate, and make joint decisions, as well as the child’s needs and the existing relationship with each parent. The goal is to ensure a stable and supportive environment for the child.