Can I settle child custody issues without an attorney?

As complex as child custody issues may be, you and your spouse may have decided to work out those questions on your own instead of bringing attorneys into the mix. If this worked well for you when you dealt with property division or support concerns, you may be confident you will resolve the matter peaceably.

However, it is important that any divorcing parent not lose sight of what is at stake. It can be easy to focus on sticking to the plan of negotiating a parenting agreement on your own, but there are certain signs that indicate having legal counsel is in your best interests and the best interests of the child.

When should I have an attorney?

If your spouse originally agreed to settle custody matters without an attorney, but he or she has since hired one, you would do well to follow suit. Having an attorney means your spouse has access to someone with perhaps decades of experience in custody cases, and it is likely your spouse will take full advantage of your lack of experience. Even if you have done extensive reading and consulted with friends and family, you may be sorely outmatched if you continue without your own professional advocate.

Hiring an attorney may also mean that other factors have changed in your custody negotiations. Any of the following scenarios may mean your parental rights are in jeopardy. The guidance of an attorney can prove invaluable if these matters or others arise:

  • Your spouse has decided to seek full custody.
  • The court has ordered you to take parenting classes or your spouse has intentions of claiming you are an unfit parent.
  • Your spouse intends to move with the children outside of California.
  • Your spouse has moved in with a new love or is planning on marrying again.
  • Your spouse is using alienation tactics or is limiting your access to the children.

Of course, there is also the possibility that your spouse's parenting skills are in question. For example, a spouse with a substance abuse issue, anger management problems or other impulsive behaviors can create a dangerous situation for your children. If you feel your children are in danger when they are with your spouse, an attorney can assist you in many ways. Ensuring the immediate safety of your children is critical. Seeking legal advice can be of great benefit.

Even if you and your spouse are able to reach a parenting agreement together, you always have the option of seeking a review of your settlement by a qualified and experienced attorney. In this way, you can feel confident that the agreement does not violate your rights or California custody laws.

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