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San Diego Custody Rights Lawyers

Custody Definitions and Rights in California

Going through a divorce can be a traumatic experience under any circumstances. When children are involved, it is of the utmost importance that you secure a satisfactory outcome that will keep their interests at the forefront.

Every parent has the right to an ongoing and meaningful relationship with his or her children, and our law firm is here to protect those rights. With years of proven experience, Mattis Law, A.P.C., can advocate for you and work to ensure that you will have a fair and mutually beneficial child custody arrangement. Please call (858) 328-4400 to set up a consultation with an experienced San Diego custody attorney.

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How Is Custody Determined?

According to California law, when both parents agree, preference should be given to joint custody. However, if they can’t come to an amicable agreement, then the court has the discretion to come up with a solution that is in the child’s best interests. It is imperative for you to have strong legal representation during this process, to avoid a decision that makes it difficult for you to be a part of your child’s life moving forward.

There are two main types of custody:

  • Legal custody: makes important decisions for your children regarding school or child care, religious activities or institutions, who psychiatric, psychological, or other mental health needs, doctor and dentist visits, sports, summer camp, travel, and residence. This parent might even have the right to move the child out of state or out of country.
  • Physical custody: who your children actually live with.

In general, legal custody falls into two categories.

  • Joint custody means both parents share the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children.
  • Sole custody means only one parent has the right and responsibility to make those decisions.

The court’s decision about who has legal custody is separate from who has physical custody and visitation rights, meaning a parent can still make important decisions in a child’s life even though they don’t live together. However, a parent with sole legal custody is likely to be granted sole physical custody.

The court makes a decision on physical and legal custody based on what is in the child's best interests. The criteria that a judge will look at when making this decision include:

  • The age of the child
  • The health and safety of the child
  • The willingness of the parent to be involved in the child's life
  • Existing emotional ties between each parent and the child
  • Each parent's ability to meet the child's needs (economical, emotional, environmental)
  • Each parent's lifestyle
  • The stability of environment each parent can provide
  • What impact a change in status quo would have on the child

The parent not awarded primary custody will most likely have visitation rights. California has four basic types of visitation agreements:

  • Scheduled visitation: The court can work with both parents to draw up a detailed visitation schedule to prevent conflicts and confusion.
  • Reasonable visitation: Reasonable visitation is an open-ended agreement allowing parents to work out a flexible visitation schedule according to their schedules.
  • Supervised visitation: If there is a question or doubt about the child's safety and well-being under the supervision of one parent, supervised visitation can be ordered.
  • No visitation: If the child's physical or emotional safety is compromised by spending time with one parent, an order of no visitation can be issued.

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Modifying a Child Custody Decision in California

After all the effort that goes into settling on a co-parenting arrangement, everyone involved will be hesitant to make a change. These agreements are often settled with the help of lawyers and mediators and take many hours of negotiation. Once a judge has signed off on a settlement, he or she will be unwilling to allow any changes without being given compelling reasons why a new arrangement is necessary.

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What Changes in Circumstance Warrant a Custody Order Change?

There are many valid reasons to update a custody agreement. In fact, every few years, the agreement should be revisited, for as children get older, their lives change. They will attend new schools, become involved in new activities, and require different resources and care.

At the same time, circumstances can change for the parents as well. These can include new jobs, new partners, or new homes. The court realizes that divorced parents do not lead static lives, and so procedures have been put into place to allow modifications to custody orders.

If both parents agree to the changes, it is relatively simple to apply for a new court order. But if they cannot agree, one parent will have no choice but to petition the court for a modification to the custody agreement. It will be up to a judge to decide whether a change is warranted by the circumstances and the best interests of the child.

Reasons to grant a modification include:

  • One of the parents is continually moving.
  • One of the parents is showing signs of being emotionally unstable.
  • The child is showing signs of abuse.
  • One of the parents is failing to make the child available for scheduled visits.
  • One of the parents is abusing drugs or alcohol.
  • One of the parents has undergone a significant change in financial circumstances.

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Filing for an Emergency Change in Custody

In certain cases, it may be necessary to be to ask for an emergency change in custody. If your child is being subjected to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, he or she needs to be immediately removed from danger. Under such circumstances, you should notify the police and file an emergency motion for modified custody. You can apply for such a motion even if the other parent is not the one committing the abuse, but is behaving in a way that allows the abuse to happen.

The court will need to see evidence that the modification request is warranted. If the circumstances do not constitute an emergency, you may need to work with a mediator to come to a mutually agreed-upon settlement with your co-parent, much the same as with the original custody plan.

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Defending the Need for a Modification Request

The experienced legal team at Mattis Law, A.P.C., will treat a modification to a custody agreement with the same care and seriousness that we do the original divorce proceedings. We will do our utmost to ensure that you continue to have a meaningful and secure environment in which to raise your children.

The divorce process can be stressful, overwhelming, expensive, and traumatic for everyone involved, especially children. You need to have an advocate on your side with the experience to protect your parental rights. Call Mattis Law, A.P.C., at (858) 328-4400 to schedule a free consultation with a San Diego child custody lawyer.

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Additional Information

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