What Happens When a Judge Determines Child Custody?

What Happens When a Judge Determines Child Custody?


Divorce can be one of the most challenging experiences of any person’s life, but the process tends to be especially hard on parents. The breakdown of a marriage is one thing, but the breakdown of a family unit raises an entirely new set of concerns and issues that demand thoughtful consideration.

In California, state law dictates that all family court judges must ensure that any divorce involving children preserves those children’s best interests. Regardless of whether divorcing parents intend to go to court or mediate their divorces, the California family court system must approve their parenting plan and ensure safe care, custody, and support for the couple’s children.

Creating a Parenting Plan in Divorce

Divorce mediation is one of the most commonly used methods of dissolving marriage in the United States. Compared to litigation, divorce mediation requires a fraction of the time and expense, ensures privacy, and ultimately provides a divorcing couple more control over their divorce proceedings. While divorce mediation can allow divorcing parents to negotiate child custody and child support, the process does not allow them to make any formal decisions in these regards without court approval. They must submit their parenting plan for a final review to have it incorporated into their divorce agreement.

Creating a parenting plan requires determining each parent’s custody rights. This includes legal custody, or the ability to take legal responsibility for a child and make decisions for them, and physical custody, which describes where the children spend their time. It is not uncommon for divorcing parents to negotiate separate ratios of physical and legal custody based on their children’s needs and their respective parenting abilities.

Litigating Child Custody

Divorce mediation for a couple with children will ultimately require final review through the court system, and some divorces may have no other option but to proceed to trial. When a divorcing couple litigates the end of their marriage, the case proceeds similarly to other civil cases. Both sides have the opportunity to provide evidence and testimony, call witnesses and expert witnesses, and file motions with the court. A judge presides over these proceedings and will ultimately render a verdict that aligns with state law.

California state law requires a judge to ensure the children of divorcing parents have an appropriate physical and legal custody arrangement, and the judge will consider several criteria in making these determinations:

  • In determining physical custody, a judge will generally seek to disrupt the children’s lives as little as possible. This could mean allowing the custodial parent to remain in the family home with the children and compelling the other parent to move into separate living arrangements.
  • Joint physical custody would require the parents to live within close proximity to one another and court evaluations of the children’s living arrangements with each parent. If one parent is more able to provide suitable accommodations for their children than the other, they have a stronger position in arguing for physical custody.
  • Legal custody is the ability to make important decisions on behalf of a child. It’s possible for divorced parents to have 50/50 legal custody. However, if one parent is unable to provide as much hands-on attention as the other but still has the capability and desire to play an active role in their child’s life, they can still be a part of their children’s lives.
  • Judges have the power to assign specific terms and conditions to physical and legal custody. For example, if one spouse has full physical custody but the parents have split legal custody, it will matter. The judge may assign notification requirements when it comes to making major decisions for the children.
  • A judge may need to assign visitation rights in the event one parent does not qualify for custody. This could be due to any number of possible factors, and the visitation arrangement is subject to change if either parent fails to abide by the terms of the arrangement.
  • Divorcing parents should also expect the court to conduct investigations into their personal finances. This is to determine child support obligations. If one parent obtains majority custody in divorce, the other will likely need to pay child support regularly based on their income.
  • If either parent has committed domestic violence, abused their spouse or children, or otherwise broken the law, the judge has a duty to consider these offenses and assign parenting rights and responsibilities accordingly.

California family court judges must assess these and other variables in every divorce case they oversee to ensure the safety of children involved in a custody dispute. Divorce litigation demands careful review of each of these criteria so the judge can make the most informed decision possible. This may be an arduous process for the divorcing spouses.


Drawbacks to Litigated Child Custody Determinations

It’s easy for parents to feel helpless when their child custody determination rests in the hands of a judge and impersonal legal statutes. While they can take comfort in the fact that the judge has a legal duty to rule in favor of protecting their children’s best interests, it can be extremely difficult to relinquish control over such an important decision. It is not exactly possible to negotiate child custody privately in divorce mediation. It is possible to draft a proposed parenting plan that is more in tune with your family’s unique needs.

An experienced San Diego divorce attorney can help their client take full advantage of divorce mediation and facilitate the negotiation of a solid parenting plan a California judge is likely to approve. When divorcing parents mediate child custody and child support, a judge must still review and approve their proposal to ensure it aligns with California’s state law and, in their view, upholds the best interests of the couple’s children.

The Value of Legal Counsel

Facing a child custody determination can be incredibly challenging, especially if you do not have reliable legal counsel to assist you in your proceedings. A San Diego divorce lawyer can be a tremendous asset as you navigate difficult legal proceedings concerning the future of your children and your rights and responsibilities as a parent.

At Bickford, Blado & Botros, we can help to ensure a positive outcome in your child custody determination. We know how difficult it can be to acknowledge that the final decision is out of your hands. Our team will help you build the strongest case possible that encourages the judge to recognize your rights and abilities as a parent. Contact us today to arrange a case evaluation with our team and learn more about what to expect in divorce litigation.




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