By Atty. Johnson Lazaro
Your letters and calls on child custody and visitation were valuable in improving our legal services in family law. Custody and visitation are some of the most emotionally difficult elements of divorce. The protection of children in each case has become our first priority. In each case it is important to look at the big picture. If the parents can agree on a plan without intervention by the court, the family may be saved a lot of aggravation and expense. The following is a compilation of some of most common questions on Child Custody cases.
What’s the best way to gain custody of my child? The Court will look into what is in the best interest of the child. You must honestly look at the situation that your child is in and decide whether you would be able to provide a safer and nurturing environment than the other parent.
What is legal and/or physical custody? If you have legal custody of the child, you can make decisions on the child’s health, education and welfare. Sole physical custody means that the child will reside with and under your supervision. Sometimes the Court will order “joint physical custody” which means that each parent will have significant periods of physical custody. The Court can also order “joint legal custody.”
The mother of my child always talks bad about me. Would that affect my goal to gain full custody of my child? The family court mediator and especially the family law Judge are experts in penetrating the accusations. The Judge normally gets to the bottom of the issues. It’s not wise to mudsling and hurl insults at each other in Court. It only makes you look as if you are using your child to gain custody. Be respectful and focused on what is best for your child.
I have not seen my child in years. Can I still get custody? The family law judge may not instantly award you custody of the child. If you have not been a “hands on parent” during the marriage, you may have to take incremental steps to resolve doubts about your parenting abilities. You may first get some visitation time and gradually work your way to more custody. You’ll need to prove that you can be a responsible parent and comply with court orders. The next step will be to file a modification of custody.
Can my child decide which parent to stay with? The child must be of sufficient age and capacity to form an intelligent preference on custody. The Court will not only consider the child’s age but also his or her sincerity, bearing, and degree of maturity. In some cases children in the age of 10 to 13 were properly given consideration. Please note that the Court is very protective of children and rarely calls them to testify in custody proceedings.
Can we avoid a Court battle on custody? Absolutely. Try to devise a feasible parenting plan. You and your ex-spouse will be dealing with each other for as long as you are parents to your child – which could mean the rest of your life. You don’t have to love each other like you used to but you need to be able to communicate and deal with each other in a business-like manner to insure the best possible upbringing for your child. You not only can avoid a court battle but also save on legal fees and court costs.
I was ordered to go to mediation. Would that help my child custody case? Mediation is required in many counties in the California. Sometimes when one fails to show up to mediation, that parent’s request for custody may be denied. Mediation is meant to reduce the acrimony in a child custody proceeding. It is also meant to develop an agreement ensuring continuing contact with both parents that is in the best interest of child. Go to mediation. It would only help your custody case. It would show the court that you are a responsible parent and willing to comply with the rules because you love your child.