Child Custody – Getting to a Trial

In a previous post, we gave an overview of what parents can expect from the contested child custody process in California, from the filing of the Petition until the time the Court makes its first orders. In this post, we will go beyond the Court’s first orders and discuss the process from that point until a child custody trial that results in a judgment.

Again, remember that parents can agree to custody and visitation arrangements without getting the Court involved, except to approve the agreement.  This post is mostly about cases where the parents can’t agree.

A Trial on Child Custody

We previously discussed the first orders that are made in a contested case. These are known as temporary orders. It is understood that the Court makes such orders based on limited information and limited time to consider such information. As such, a change of circumstances is not required to change such orders at trial.

If a party is not pleased with the initial orders made by the Court, it is very common for that party to request a psychological evaluation of the family pursuant to Family Code section 3111. If the Court finds a psychological evaluation is in the best interests of the child, it would then appoint a psychologist as a neutral expert designed to assist the Court. These psychologists then conduct an in-depth investigation of the dynamics of the family. They meet with both parties many times, they may meet with the children, they review police and Child Welfare Services reports, they conduct psychological testing, and they contact references and other witnesses, among other things. After the investigation and psychological testing is complete, they issue an in-depth report to the Court that includes custody and visitation recommendations. If a party disagrees with the report, they can cross examine the psychologist or even hire their own to challenge some of the findings in the report.

Whether or not there is a psychological evaluation, a trial on child custody will still usually be a complicated affair. Depending on how complicated a case is, they can last from hours, to days, to weeks. After the Court has heard all the witnesses and considered all the evidence, it will render its decision. A child custody decision made after a trial is considered a “final judicial custody determination.” According to California law, such a custody decision can only be changed upon a showing that there has been changed circumstances exigent to the health, safety, and welfare of the children. In a future post, we will discuss how what happens at trial can effect child sharing in the future if there is a post-judgment request to modify custody or move the children out of the county.

Tips for a High Conflict Custody Case

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California’s child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.


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