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Child Custody Tips

Courts are directed to follow the state policy of assuring frequent and continuing contact between a child and both parents. Providing the children with a sense of stability during the divorce process is usually a significant concern of the court. So in fashioning custody orders, the court will look to the parties’ history of parenting, as well as the current circumstances.

A very significant concern to the court is whether the parties are following the state’s policy of assuring frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Often, if one party is interfering in the relationship between the children and the other party, the court will take steps to ensure the relationship between the non-interfering parent and the children is preserved, and this could result in a reduction of the time the children spend with the interfering parent.

Once a Petition for Dissolution is filed, either of the parties can request that the court make temporary custody orders. This is usually done by filing an Order to Show Cause. Prior to the hearing on the Order to Show Cause (or “OSC”), the court (particularly in Orange County) will usually require the parties to submit to a court-sponsored mediation, in which a mediator will try to help the parties come to an agreement on a custody and visitation schedule. Unless the parties agree in mediation or otherwise, the court will hold a hearing and make temporary custody orders pending the final resolution of the case.

“Legal Custody” refers to who has the ability to make decisions regarding the children’s health, safety and welfare. It has nothing to do with who physically has custody of the children. Usually, the courts will order Joint Legal Custody, meaning both parents have the right to participate in these decisions. “Physical Custody” refers to who actually has the children with them. “Joint Physical Custody” does not mean each party has an equal share of time with the children. It simply means both parties have significant periods of custodial time. This can range anywhere from a 50-50 split of the time to 70-30, or even 80-20 on occasion. When the non-custodial parent has a small percentage of visitation time, the court will often call it Sole Physical Custody; this certainly does not mean no visitation to the other parent. For a list of terms commonly used in custody matters in Orange County, click here.

If custody is contested, requiring the court to make orders, the court may order an independent custody evaluation by a psychologist. This is commonly referred to as a “730 Evaluation” and, if ordered, could take several months to complete. These evaluations usually cost $4,000 to $7,500 to complete. The court has a lower-cost alternative available, called a Child Custody Investigation (or “CCI”), but they are generally not as thorough, and are conducted by licensed therapists instead of a psychologist.

If there are allegations of domestic violence by one of the parties, particularly when it potentially involves the children, the court can make emergency orders and conduct emergency investigations. Domestic violence issues usually take priority as far as the court is concerned over other issues. If the court finds that domestic violence has occurred, it can make a temporary restraining order limiting contact by one party to the other.

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