For some couples, child custody can be one of the single most contentious issues of a divorce. Divorce affects more than 100,000 children a year in California. That’s why California family law establishes a detailed process through which Divorcing Couples can try to reach agreement on their custody arrangements.
The state leaves much of the decisions about custody up to the parents, unless there is abuse involved. It’s important to remember that if your spouse is abusive, either to you or the child, or if your spouse is neglectful of the child in a potentially dangerous way, you must have documentation to help protect your child custody rights.
Report the abuse to police, take out a restraining order, enlist the help of witnesses to the abusive or neglectful behavior. Write down everything. If you have to, after speaking to a family law attorney, hire a private investigator to get video footage of neglect, such as leaving the child in a car alone, or keeping a child in a home with no food.
Once a couple separates, it’s up to the parents to develop a “parenting plan” that details where the children will live, how the parents will handle visitation, and who will make decisions regarding the children.
That parenting plan, also called a “time-share plan,” can be worked out between the parents themselves or with the help of family law attorneys. When they have reached an agreement, a California family law judge has to sign off.
If the two sides are unable to agree on a child custody agreement, the next step is family court mediation, where professional counselors will listen to both parents, then try to help them reach a middle ground. In some California counties, the mediator also will submit written recommendations to the judge.