Child Custody Lawyers San Diego
Child custody is one of the most strongly contested and emotionally challenging issues in divorce proceedings. While divorce is about ending a marriage, it does not have to be the complete demise of the family. California courts strongly believe children benefit from a bond with both parents.
Working out child custody disputes with mutually agreeable custody and visitation agreements that are in the best interests of your children can foster these relationships and help your children flourish.
You and the other parent may find it extremely challenging to reach agreements regarding a workable custody arrangement for your family. At the Law Office of Steven M. Bishop, CFLS, we understand the emotional toll it takes to fight for your children, and we will give your case the attention and care it deserves.
You will benefit from working with a Certified San Diego Family Law Specialist who has over 40 years of experience providing legal advice and representing parents in custody and divorce cases. Mr. Bishop focuses his practice on family law matters and is dedicated to guiding and supporting you throughout your case with compassion while fighting hard for your visitation rights.
Best Interests of the Child Standard
The courts are trending toward disregarding the gender of parents when making family law decisions, allowing each parent to play a crucial role in the life of the child. In addition, under California Family Code § 3080, there is a presumption that joint physical and legal custody is in the best interest of the child. If either parent chooses to challenge this presumption, the court schedules a hearing to determine physical and legal custody using the “best interest of the child” standard.
The court uses factors including the health, safety, and welfare of the child, any history of physical or sexual abuse, or the current and continued use of illegal drugs by one or both parents to help make the best possible custody choices for the child.
While the intention of using the “best interest of the child” standard is to give the child the best possible opportunity at a stable and happy life, these standards are not an exact science. The way your case is presented and how you are perceived by the court are both very important to the outcome. The best way to ensure that your rights as a parent are protected is to have an experienced San Diego child custody lawyer representing you.
Settling your California Child Custody Case
Often, legal agreements involving children are complicated. Before settling your child custody case, you should make sure that you are comfortable with the custody agreement. Once the initial child custody arrangements are set, it can be difficult to convince a court to make changes down the road. The best chance for a favorable agreement is to get it right the first time by hiring a child custody lawyer in San Diego who will represent your interests. Our job is to help facilitate an arrangement so that your child can benefit from your loving presence in their life in the best way possible for all involved.
As your family law lawyer, Mr. Bishop will help you understand and assert your legal rights. If you want to know more about your custody case, have questions about your parenting arrangement, or need to modify an existing custody agreement; we offer reliable advice and effective strategies.
How the Courts Determine Custody in California
Child custody is about determining who will provide care, control, and financial support for a minor child. California Family Code § 3020 makes clear that the court’s main concern is ensuring the child’s health, safety, and welfare when making a determination.
This section of the family code goes on to say, “…it is the public policy of this state to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing in order to effect this policy, except when contact would not be in the best interests of the child…”
California Family Code § 3011 lays out the factors that the court uses when applying the best interest of the child standard, including:
- The health, safety, and welfare of the child.
- A history of child abuse or neglect by either parent, by another person seeking custody, or a current spouse, child, or cohabitant of the parent or person seeking custody. In order to consider allegations of abuse, the court may require independent evidence, including written reports by courts, law enforcement agencies, child protective services or other social welfare agencies, medical facilities, or other public agencies or private nonprofit organizations that provide services to victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.
- The type of and amount of contact with both parents.
- The habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances, alcohol, or prescribed controlled substances by either parent. In order to consider allegations of abuse, the court may require independent evidence, including written reports by courts, law enforcement agencies, child protective services or other social welfare agencies, medical facilities, or other public agencies or private nonprofit organizations that provide drug and alcohol abuse services.
Defining Custody and Visitation in California
In a child custody matter, the terms “custody” and “visitation” have legal definitions specific to California that might be different from what people commonly assume them to mean:
- Legal custody: Legal custody determines who makes decisions for the children regarding their health, safety, welfare, and education. In practical terms, the parent with legal custody gets to decide which school the child will attend, what sports or other extra-curricular activities they will participate in, and whether or not they will receive religious instruction or attend religious services. There are two types of legal custody that may be awarded in California: joint and sole legal. The courts favor awarding joint legal custody in a divorce, allowing each parent to share in the decision-making for their children. When joint legal custody is awarded, both parents make decisions that affect the activities their child will participate in. The parent’s physical proximity to the child is not a big factor in the determination between joint and sole legal custody because decisions about health, safety, welfare, and education can be made remotely. Sole legal custody is awarded in certain cases; sometimes because the court believes that the parents are not able to make decisions together for the sake of their child’s best interest or because of allegations of abuse or substance abuse.
- Physical custody: Physical custody determines the parent with whom the child will live. There are two types of physical custody that the court may decide on: joint and sole. In the case of joint physical custody, the child spends time living with both parents, based on a schedule they agree upon or which the court orders. The physical custody agreement determines what percentage of time the child will live with each parent. When sole custody is awarded, one parent will have the child 100% of the time. The parent with physical custody is known as the “custodial” parent while the other parent is known as the “non-custodial” parent*. The court may determine that sole custody is in the best interests of the child for various reasons discussed below.
- Visitation: A visitation schedule is an integral part of the parenting plan. It includes the specific days the child will spend with each parent, pick-up and drop-off times, and a schedule for holidays and vacations.
These are the practical decisions that will affect your child’s life.
*The non-custodial parent is still entitled to access school and medical and dental records for their child. If you believe that the other parent having access to your child’s private information puts them in danger, contact an experienced California child custody attorney who can advocate for your child’s health and safety, and well-being.
Factors that are used to decide physical custody of the child and visitation in California include:
- The amount of time or ability that each parent has to invest in parenting the child. For example, a parent who travels half the month for work would have less time to parent their child.
- Where the child goes to school
- The child’s level of connection to their school, community, and home
- Any history of family violence or substance abuse
- The age of the child
- The health of the child
- The quality of the relationship between each parent and the child
- Any other factors that the family court sees as relevant to the determination
Parenting Plans in California
In California, public policy is to ensure children receive the benefit of frequent and continuing contact with both parents who have gone their separate ways, whether they are divorced or were never married.
Ideally, both parents work together to develop a parenting plan, a document that details the custody agreement and visitation schedule. A parenting plan or “custody and visitation agreement” is the parents’ written agreement about the time-share of their children and how the parents will make decisions about the health, education, and overall welfare of their children.
It is very important to have a written plan in place to refer back to in case questions or conflicts come up about the shared parenting arrangement down the road. In order to make the plan a court order, it must be signed by you and by the judge and filed with the court.
How to Make a Parenting Plan in the Best Interest of Your Children:
It is common to feel some animosity toward an ex but in the spirit of what is best for your kids, it is important to take your children’s needs into consideration when creating the parenting plan. Think about how the plan can be written to best meet your child’s needs for love, protection, and guidance as well as good medical care, and a healthy lifestyle. Other factors to consider are:
- Your children’s ages, health status, particular personalities, and coping mechanisms
- Make the plan as consistent as possible, so the kids can rely on a steady schedule and routine
- The plan should provide for enough time at each parent’s home to allow as much bonding time as possible with each parent
- The distance between the parent’s homes
- Include as many details as you can think of and write the plan in a way that it is easy to understand
- Build in some flexibility with examples of exceptions that could be made under certain circumstances such as a special event or a child getting sick
In cases of joint legal and physical custody, the plan should make it clear that:
- Both parents can access medical, dental, and school information about their child
- Both parents should be able to contact the other parent to communicate about the kids
- Important decisions such as the child taking a special trip or a new nanny will be made together
A parenting plan should be comprehensive and address issues such as:
- Where the child attends school
- How the child spends vacations and school holidays
- Child care arrangements
- The religion the child observes
- Primary medical and dental care providers
- How communication with one parent is handled when the child is with the other parent
Once parents work out the details of the parenting plan and the court reviews and approves it, the terms become an enforceable court order.
What to Understand about Child Support in California
Child support is a monthly financial payment generally made by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to help them pay for the costs of raising their child after a separation or divorce. The reason that the non-custodial parent is usually the one to pay child support is that the law makes the assumption that the custodial parent spends more money on raising the children than the non-custodial parent. Technically, a court can order both parents to pay child support.
Child support payments are usually required until a child turns 18, with some exceptions. For example, if the child is still in high school and living at home at the age of 19, support payments could be extended through that time. On the other hand, child support could end before the child turns 18 if the child gets married or registers in a domestic partnership, joins the military, or becomes self-supporting in any other way. Some parents choose an agreement that extends support payments past the age of 18 for various reasons including a child with a disability who will be unable to support themselves.
Calculating Child Support with California Child Support Guidelines
Child support payment amounts are not universal. A very wealthy parent who is obligated to pay child support will pay considerably more than a parent who is living below the poverty line. Everyone else will fall somewhere in the middle. The child support payment amount is calculated using California’s child support guidelines, which are based on a mathematical formula that accounts for several factors.
The formula used in the California Guidelines Calculator is fairly straightforward, but that doesn’t mean that it always feels easy to use. Courts assume that the amount determined by the calculator is the appropriate amount of child support, and it is in most cases. Unfortunately, there are families with special circumstances that don’t get taken into account by the formula. A court order is the only way to get the amount adjusted. In some cases, a parent may choose to accept a lower amount but the court will only agree to it if the parents declare that they are fully aware of their rights around support and that they are not being forced into the agreement. In addition, they must also be able to explain how the lesser amount would still allow the child’s needs to be met.
Legal representation can be very helpful when parents are trying to get the court to raise or lower the child support payment amount from the guidelines calculator result.
Move Away Cases in California
It is fairly common for a parent to decide to move away after a separation or divorce. Often the decision is made to be closer to their family, but sometimes it is because they can no longer afford to live in the same city, or because they need to take a new job in a new city or state now that they will be supporting a household on one income.
Whatever the reasons, when a parent decides to move away after the marriage or relationship ends; it makes custody decisions that much more complicated. This is especially true when both parents are active participants and loving figures in their children’s lives. What is the best way to decide where the children will live and how they will maintain a close relationship with both parents?
When parents cannot come to an agreement on their own about who the children should live with or what times of the year they should live with each parent, the court will be left to make the decision.
California’s move-away laws are complicated and require the expertise of an experienced California family law attorney to navigate. No matter which side of the move-away you are on, it is in your interest to contact a family law attorney in your area for a free initial consultation.
How Our San Diego Child Custody Attorneys Will Help You
As family law attorneys with over four decades of experience, our law firm knows how important it is for the court to see you as a caring and dedicated parent who is invested in seeing their child healthy and happy. We prepare our clients to put their best foot forward in order to ensure the best possible outcome.
At the same time, we are prepared to pursue any allegations of abuse or substance abuse against your ex-spouse that could affect their ability to be a good parent to your kids.
We recognize that children suffer from a long and vicious legal fight so we always work hard to negotiate a favorable settlement first. Unfortunately, in some cases, an uncooperative ex-spouse can make it necessary to take your case to court. When you hire our legal team, you can rest easy knowing that we will litigate on your behalf if a trial becomes necessary.
Creative and Practical Legal Solutions Designed to Address Your Needs
Each family law case requires a careful analysis to determine the best possible approach. When you work with our family law firm you will sit down with Mr. Bishop and be able to tell him your story. He will listen to what is happening with you and help you make the decisions right for your future.
Mr. Bishop and his dedicated staff of trained professionals will work tirelessly to resolve your case as efficiently as possible. He will attempt to negotiate a solution that helps reduce the stress and uncertainty you may be experiencing and help you move on with your life.
Should negotiations fail to be productive, Mr. Bishop is an aggressive litigator. You will not need to find a new lawyer if your case ends up going to trial. Mr. Bishop will be there for you through each stage of your case.
When children are involved, the welfare of your child is our utmost concern. If you are considering getting a divorce in San Diego County, or you’re having child custody or visitation issues with your ex, the Law Office of Steven M. Bishop, CFLS, is here for you. As divorce lawyers, we have the knowledge of California divorce law and the experience to get the results you need to move forward with your life.
We have dedicated our practice to helping families overcome their legal challenges through effective parenting plans, modifications, visitation schedules, child support agreements, and more. We don’t shy away from complex child custody cases, including move away cases.
For over forty years, attorney Steven M. Bishop has worked relentlessly to help parents fight for custody of their kids. We will treat your San Diego divorce case with care and compassion and work together with you to help you move forward. Let an attorney who is a Certified Family Law Specialist help you with your child custody issues. Call our phone number 619-299-9780 or contact us online to schedule a no-obligation free consultation today.