Child Custody, Visitation and Parenting Time in Los Angeles
Child Custody and Visitation is without a doubt one of the most important and often one of the most highly contested issues in a family law case.
In many cases, the parties are able to come up with an agreeable parenting plan outside of court that considers the unique needs and dynamics of their family. In these cases, our attorneys help the parties reach an agreement that makes sense for their family and then incorporate this agreement into a formal Stipulation and Order to be filed with the court.
In many other cases however, such an agreement between the parties is difficult to reach and court intervention, and sometimes the use of mediators and experts is required. In these cases, our attorneys can help you navigate how to best present your case to the Los Angeles Family Court judge assigned to your case. It is important to remember that the judge does not know your family personally, therefore, he or she has limited knowledge based on what you present.
There are several common questions that arise in a custody matter. This page attempts to answer many of those questions.
What is the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody?
Legal Custody: Legal custody is the parent’s right and responsibility to make decisions related to the child’s health, safety, welfare, and education. It includes such issues as what medical treatments and procedures the child will receive, whether or not the child will attend therapy, what doctors and therapists the child will go to and how often, and where the child will attend school or daycare. In most cases, unless there is a compelling reason to grant sole legal custody to one parent, parents will share joint legal custody. Joint legal custody means the parents will equally share decision-making power and should work together for the benefit of the child.
Physical Custody: Physical custody refers to the time that a parent has the child in his or her physical care. In some cases, the parties share joint physical custody, which means the child spends comparable time with both parents. In other cases, one parent has “sole” physical custody or “primary” physical custody, which means the child spends the majority of his or her time with that parent and has visitation with the other parent.
In most cases, if there is disagreement between the parents, it is related to the physical custody and visitation schedule. If the parties cannot agree on a schedule that works for their family, a motion will need to be filed with the court. The parties will then be required to attend Family Court Services mediation (see more below) and if still unresolved, attend a hearing on this issue.
Does the Los Angeles Court Have Jurisdiction Over Custody in My Case?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UUCJEA) is a set of laws regarding custody that has been adopted by nearly every state in the United States, including California. Sections 3400-3465 of the California Family Code address when the California courts have jurisdiction to do the following:
- Make initial custody and visitation orders
- Make modifications to another state’s or country’s custody and visitation orders
- Enforce another state’s or country’s custody and visitation orders
- Make temporary emergency orders
- Register another state’s custody and visitation orders
An important term used in determining custody jurisdiction is “home state.” Home state refers to the state where the child resided for at least 6 months immediately before the custody proceeding. If the child is less than 6 months old, it is the state where the child has lived since birth.
Under section 3424 of the California Family Code, a California court has the authority to make a temporary, emergency order if the child is found within the state and there is evidence presented to the court (through the appropriate petition or motion) that the child has been abandoned or when an emergency order is necessary to protect the child from actual or threats of mistreatment or abuse.
Custody jurisdiction is an extremely complex area of the law. The attorneys at Wilkinson & Finkbeiner can help determine whether Los Angeles has jurisdiction to hear your custody case.
What does the Court Consider When Making a Custody Order?
The primary consideration that the court makes when making a custody and visitation order is the best interest of the child. In making this determination, pursuant to the Family Code, the court considers such factors as (a) the health, safety, and welfare of the child; (b) any history of abuse by one parent; (c) the nature and amount of contact between the child and the parents; (d) habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances or alcohol. The court may also look at which parent is more likely to co-parent with the other and facilitate frequent and continuing contact between the parent and child.
When Will the Court Order Supervised Visitation?
In certain cases, the court will order that one of the parents has supervised visitation. This order can be by request of the other parent or based on the judge’s own opinion of the case. The supervisor may be a mutually agreed-upon third-party such as a family member or friend, or it could be a trained professional paid for by one or both parties. The frequency and duration of the supervised visits will vary from case to case.
Supervised visitation is most commonly ordered when there is concern about a parent’s ability to care for the child without a third-party monitoring or supervising the visit. This concern may be as a result of that parent’s history of abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, substance abuse, an extended period of time that the parent and child have been separated therefore there is no existing relationship between the parent and child, threat of parental abduction, when there are parenting concerns or mental illness, or other factors where the court feels visits would most benefit from a third-party present.
What is Family Court Services Mediation?
It is a mandatory requirement of the Los Angeles Family Court that the parties to any contested custody case attend Family Court Services (FCS) mediation prior to the court hearing. FCS, formerly known as Conciliation Court, is an opportunity for the parties to sit down in a neutral place with a mediator (free of charge) to discuss a parenting plan for their child/children. Mediation typically lasts anywhere between 1 ½-2 hours. If the parties are able to reach an agreement during mediation, it is signed by the judge and becomes a binding and enforceable order. When no agreement is reached, the parties will litigate the issue at court.
FCS mediation in Los Angeles County is confidential, which means that the mediator will not make reports or recommendations to the court regarding any information discussed during mediation. Instead, the mediator may only submit an agreement that has been signed off by the parties.
What is a Custody Evaluation?
Custody evaluations may be ordered by the court or stipulated by the parties in order to provide a recommended parenting plan based on a detailed expert assessment. The evaluation is performed by a neutral mental health professional and can be done through the court or by an outside expert. The types of evaluations are as follows:
Full Child Custody Evaluation Through the Court: Family Court Services will conduct a full custody evaluation when the court determines there are serious allegations of child sexual abuse.
Parenting Plan Assessments (PPA) Through the Court: In a PPA, the families will be interviewed and observed by a Family Court Services professional, who will issue a report after the interviewing process is complete regarding his/her opinions. There are two types of PPAs depending on the complexity of the case:
PPA-1: A PPA-1 is a one-day assessment conducted when there are a few narrow issues that the Court needs further clarification or guidance on.
PPA-2: A PPA-2 is a two-day assessment where there are more than a few narrow issues that the Court needs further clarification or guidance on.
**All evaluations through the Court (FCS) have a fee, unless waived or deferred by the Court.
Private Custody Evaluations: There are a number of experts within the Los Angeles community who provide private evaluations pursuant to Evidence Code §730 and Family Code §3111. These evaluations are comprehensive and involve many interactions with the children and parents, as well as communication with collateral sources.
What is a Move-Away Case and What Does the Court Consider in These Cases?
Some of the most contentious custody cases arise when one parent requests to relocate with the child from Los Angeles County to another county, state, or country. In these cases, the factors that the court considers vary based on whether the move away request is an initial custody determination (i.e. prior to judgment being entered) or is post judgment.
Generally speaking, in an initial custody determination, the court looks at all of the facts and circumstances and then makes a determination based on the best interest of the child. When there is already a custody order in place, if a parent has sole physical custody of the child, that parent has the presumptive right to move unless the move is detrimental to the child (as demonstrated by the other parent). If there is joint custody, the court will look at the best interest of the child. In all scenarios, the parent requesting to relocate the child should be prepared to discuss the following factors: (1) the best interest of the child as described above; (2) the child’s stability and continuity in the current custody arrangement; (3) the relationship between the child and the parents; (4) the distance of the move; (5) the child’s age; (6) the relationship between the parents; (7) the child’s preference if he or she is mature enough to make that preference known; (8) and the reasons for the move.
Our attorneys have significant experience in move away cases and can help you make the appropriate arguments for your case—either for or against the move away.