Children of divorce sometimes have it hard: One minute, they may be living in a happy family with two supportive parents. The next minute, their parents are screaming at one another and filing for divorce. Children find this situation very frightening. They may feel that they must choose one parent over the other. Some children try to be neutral and support both parents. Some children wish they could leave both parents behind and live with a relative or close friend instead. Some children feel they are to blame for their parents’ problems while others see themselves as their parents’ caretakers, and they try to “fix” things for their parents. As might be imagined, this is a very, very difficult situation for children to be in, and we should not expect them to make these decisions.
Fortunately, in California, children do not have to make these tough decisions. Instead, when a divorce occurs, the legal system is available to independently determine how child custody will be handled. To make this decision, the Court first asks if the parents themselves have reached an agreement. Ideally, the parents will have a clear plan for handling child custody. Some parents share joint custody: in this case, the children spend significant time with each parent. In certain cases, one parent may have sole custody, while the other parent has limited or no visitation.
If parents are unable to agree on child custody, the Court will determine what custody schedule will serve the children’s best interests. The Court considers a plethora of factors, including (without limitation) each parent’s history of drug or alcohol abuse, a record of child abuse, mental health, and the likelihood of facilitating visitation with the other parent. Once the Court makes its decision, the parents are given the custody order. A custody order typically puts an end to questions about visitation and gives the parties a specific road map to follow in questions of custody of their children.