Orange County Child Custody Attorney
California law directs that the children involved in a divorce should have “frequent and continuing” contacts with both parents. As a practical matter, this means that unless you can prove that your children will be harmed by visiting with their other parent, and with all other things being equal, the court will presume that it is in the best interest of your children that you and your ex should both have an equal amount of time with your children.
The best and most flexible child custody and schedules are typically decided by the parents themselves. In Orange County, California – like in many other jurisdictions – if parents cannot decide on a visitation schedule on their own, they will be required to go through a mediation process before they are allowed to go before a judge. If the parents still cannot work out a visitation schedule they can both live with, the court will decide for them, which usually results in an outcome that one or both of the parties is unhappy with.
When setting up a negotiated visitation schedule, it is helpful to remember that whatever works best for your family is usually going to be agreeable to the court. Do you both want Junior to live with Dad except for when he’s with Mom on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays every third week? That may be confusing, but if that works for your family, the court will sign off on it. You can alternate weeks or have the kids go to the other parent every other weekend. Creativity is allowed and even encouraged so long as it’s in “the best interests of your children”. That is the only thing the judge will be worried about. Frankly, the courts don’t care about mom or dad. Most judges will contend that Family Law courthouses exist to make certain children are safe and well taken care of.
If it would be potentially harmful for your children to be alone with your ex, there are options beyond cutting off their relationship entirely. Short-term or long-term, you can establish a supervised visitation structure where another trusted adult is required to be present during the visits. These supervised visits can be as short or as long as you (or the judge, if you and your ex can’t agree) deem appropriate and safe.
In many instances, children will express a strong preference in visitation and custody. Some children simply want a voice in how often they visit the non-custodial parent, while others demand to live full time with one or the other. It is never a good idea to have these conversations with your children. It empowers them in a way that the courts despise. When you ask a child which parent they want to live with, you are forcing that child to choose between their parents. This necessarily harms the child psychologically.
That being said, at some time or another as your children grow, they will begin to express, without your input or inquiry, what they prefer with regard to custodial time and visitations. California law says that when a child is 14, their “preference” shall be considered by the court. That does not mean they get to choose who they live with, it simply means the judge must consider their preference. Again, you never want to initiate these conversations, and you will want to downplay them if your child brings the issue up. But, be cognizant of their wishes and try to work with the other parent (co-parent) to do what is best for your children, and your entire family unit.
When children are involved in a divorce, the court system is only concerned that their health and well-being is safeguarded. Because children are usually best served when they enjoy a close relationship with both parents, courts seek to foster those mutual bonds as much as possible.
If you have children and are contemplating divorce, the law firm of Pinkham and Associates would be pleased to provide some initial advice, to help you develop a visitation plan, and to help you with all other aspects of your divorce. Contact us today for a free consultation.