During a divorce, one of the main battles is usually over child custody. Custody arrangements can be agreed upon between the parents through mediation or collaboration, but when the parents cannot agree, the court will decide who is to have custody of the children based on what they determine to be in the child's “best interests." This means that all custody and visitation arrangements should be planned with the primary goal of fostering the child's emotional development, security, and happiness in mind.
As a parent who is concerned about your child's well-being, your best course of action is to consult a child custody attorney in Beverly Hills to help you understand all your legal options. At Feinberg & Waller, APC, our experienced Beverly Hills child custody lawyers can help you to express your concerns and present a strong case for custody to the court.
How Is Child Custody Decided in Beverly Hills, CA?
California courts mainly consider the best interests of the child when determining who gets custody, and the judge will look at a wide array of factors. These factors include, but are not limited to:
- The age of the child – The "tender years doctrine" is not commonly used these days, but some judges still tend to conclude that younger children should be in the custody of their mother. Other judges consider who between the two parents is more responsible and/or capable of caring for the child.
- The parents' living conditions – The living conditions of the parents are generally not a big factor in custody decisions, as long as the housing is safe and does not pose a harm to the child. There will often be a discrepancy in housing between parents depending on their current economic conditions, along with other factors. Living in poverty is not, however, a reason to give or take custody. A loving, child-focused home is oftentimes the key, and that can be found in the homes of every socioeconomic status. In some cases, the parent awarded the family home in the divorce will gain custody of the kids, if the court finds that this will help ensure the kids remain stable and that their daily lives aren't more disrupted than need be; in other words, if that is what is best for them under the circumstances. To best approach child custody, a parent should ensure that their living conditions are neither emotionally nor physically stressful.
- The parents' relationships with the child – Some parents rarely show an interest in their children until after the divorce process has started. Although most of those cases involve parents who are sincere in their newfound desire to be more involved with their children, the judge often takes time to learn the source of this sudden interest. If the parent just wants to win custody of the children to punish their former spouse or to reduce their support obligations, that will definitely factor negatively toward them in this context.
- The child's preferences – In some states, children above 12 years of age can decide who they prefer for custody and visitation. However, some states do not allow the preferences of the children in court. The judge can ask a custody evaluator to assess the child's preferences.
Types of Child Custody in California
One of the most important things to understand when you are reaching an agreement regarding co-parenting is who is going to have physical and legal custody of the child. So what's the difference?
- Physical Custody – With whom the child will be living. In California, this can be “joint” or “sole.” “Joint physical custody generally contemplates a timeshare that is significant to both parents, approaching if not meeting a 50/50 timeshare. Sole custody is more reminiscent of what one would find in the 1950s or 1960s: one parent has the child most of the time and the other parent visits on alternating weekends.
- Legal Custody – Which parent/parents is/are allowed to make important decisions regarding the child's health, education, and welfare. Elective surgery, getting a driver’s license, where the child lives (geographically), where the child attends school, things like that.
How to Prepare for a Child Custody Hearing
Parents should prepare themselves to address all pertinent issues concerning the care of the child before their day in court. The judge in a custody case may also consider factors such as a disability or a busy work schedule of one of the parents that may make it difficult for them to fulfill the responsibilities of a custodial parent. Some parents have found success in child custody hearings by preparing a chart to illustrate what day-to-day life would look like for the child if they were the parent receiving custody, and also keeping a daily journal to document as it is occurring the general day-to-day happenings in the child’s life and the on-going relationship they are experiencing with the other parent.
Ultimately, if you are facing a child custody hearing, you will have the best chance at presenting your best case to the court with the help of a Beverly Hills child custody attorney.
Co-Parenting & Visitation Agreements in Beverly Hills
Most courts today encourage a co-parenting or time-share agreement, meaning joint physical custody, approaching if not meeting a 50/50 timeshare. In that push, they will ensure that there is a proper balance of benefits to both parents involved. It should be known that all this is done in order to provide the best possible situation for the child.
There is no formal “standard” custody and visitation schedule in California, but some common co-parenting schedules include:
- School Year & Summer Break – The child lives with one parent during the standard school year and with the other parent over summer break. The non-custodial parent will have meaningful visitation with the child.
- Every 2 Days – The child switches households every 2 days.
- Every Extended Weekend – The child lives with one parent Monday afternoon through Thursday morning, and with the other parent Friday afternoon through Monday morning.
- Alternating Weeks – The child switches households every week.
- Alternating Two Weeks – The child switches households every 2 weeks.
- The 2-2-3 Schedule – The child spends 2 days with parent A, 2 days with parent B, and then 3 days with parent A. The following week, the child spends 2 days with parent B, 2 days with parent A, and then 3 days with parent B. This cycle then repeats.
- The 2-2-5-5 Schedule – Each week the child spends the same 2 days of the week with parent A (for example every Monday and Tuesday) and then the same 2 days of the week with parent B (for example every Wednesday and Thursday). Then, the child alternates the weekends with the parents, for example, in week one the weekend is spent with parent A, in week two with parent B. This cycle then repeats.
- The 3-4-4-3 Schedule – The child spends 3 days with parent A and then 4 days with parent B. The next week, they spend 4 days with parent A and 3 days with parent B. This cycle then repeats.
Can I Modify My Child Custody Order?
Custody agreements or court orders that were established in the past may have worked for years, but as the lives of parents and the needs of children change, child custody agreements may need to be revisited and changed, as well.
Here are five of the most common reasons why a parent may seek a modification of child custody orders:
- Relocation / Moving Away – Perhaps the custodial parent moved to Los Angeles to be with their ex in the first place and would now like to move back home. Maybe the custodial parent landed a new job that will require them to relocate to another state. Relocating can be a big deal for a child, but one parent moving does not necessarily mean the child has to relocate. Child custody arrangements can be modified to allow for travel back and forth, or to incorporate a schedule of phone or video chats. The key is to work with a skilled Beverly Hills child custody attorney to help you pursue a new plan that is in your child's best interest.
- New Job – Even if a new job doesn't require you or your ex to move, it may still impact the parenting schedule. Night shift vs. day shift. Days vs. weekends. Part time vs. a salaried job that requires 50-plus hours a week. Commuting changes that impacts an ability to meet pick-up or drop-off schedules. Whatever the case may be, it is important to recognize that child custody orders can be modified.
- Significant Changes in the Child's Needs – The needs of a 3-year-old are dramatically different than the needs of a 15-year-old. Perhaps one parent lives in a preferred school district. Maybe childcare originally played a role in the custody arrangement, but isn't an issue now that they are older. Maybe there are simply conflicts between the parent and child that require more time apart than the current schedule allows. Children have so many varying needs that may change in ways that impact your current child custody orders. Changing the custody order may be the best way to resolve the issue.
- Missed Pick-Ups and Drop-Offs – In the beginning, your ex was great about sticking to the schedule, but lately they treat it as a suggestion rather than a legally binding agreement. There could be a good reason for their struggle to comply with the schedule, which the court will consider. On the other hand, however, your ex may simply be problematic and/or irresponsible. Such circumstances may justify a modification to the child custody agreement to ensure your child is in good hands.
- Safety Concerns – Unfortunately, there are times when a child custody modification may be required due to safety concerns – for example, the other parent has addiction issues that interfere with their ability to care for their child, or has become involved with a new partner who may be emotionally or physically abusive to the child. If your instinct is that your child needs protection from potential danger, then take immediate action with the help of a child custody lawyer in Beverly Hills. This may involve changing your child custody orders and possibly seeking a restraining order for your child.
By no means is this an exhaustive list. There are other reasons why a court may consider modifying child custody orders, and orders may be modified by agreement as well.
Speak With a Child Custody Attorney in Beverly Hills
Feinberg & Waller, APC, is dedicated to providing outstanding family law services to the clients in Beverly Hills and throughout Los Angeles. We are recognized for our integrity and our results. Schedule your initial consultation today to learn how our team of professionals can help with your child custody case.
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