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Child Custody 101: The Basics You Should Know

There is a basic fact that holds a lot of people back from leaving unhappy marriages – when you are divorced, you will have to share time with your children. Although both parents want to have their children 100% of the time, it is not physically possible when there is a divorce or legal separation. We never encourage divorce for any family (kids or not), but when it’s inevitable you need to be informed about child custody and how it will impact your situation.

  • Physical Custody:

California courts are primarily focused on ensuring that both parents are spending ample time with the minor children. Therefore, as long as there are no major issues involved like substance or physical abuse, the court will lean toward a parenting plan that facilitates as much contact with both parents as possible. In fact, the court may look at a parent who is trying to limit contact between the children and the other parent as a “gate keeper” and reprimand or even penalize that parent accordingly. Why? Because the court could not imagine that a parent would think that holding the children back from seeing their mother or father is doing what is in the children’s best interests!

So, what does a basic parenting plan in California look like? Well, it typically looks like some format of 50/50. This means that each parent is spending approximately 50% of the time with the minor child(ren). Here is a common example:

The “2-2-3”

On Week 1, Mother has the children for Monday and Tuesday; Father has the children for Wednesday and Thursday (until Friday morning); and Mother has the children from Friday evening until Monday morning. On Week 2, Father has the children from Monday evening until Wednesday morning; and Mother has the children from Wednesday afternoon until Friday morning; Father has the children from Friday evening until Monday morning. Then, this cycle repeats for week 3 and 4 to make up a full month of visitation. Basically, each parent has two days, and then the weekends are alternated.

You will also need to find a way to split the holidays with your spouse. If you are in mediation, you can make a flexible arrangement that will allow for modifications between the two of you by mutual agreement. If you want something a little bit more structured, you may want to think through alternating the holidays from year-to-year with one of you having even years and the other having odd years for major holidays. You may also want to think through the children’s birthday celebrations and whether you want to continue having those jointly, or whether you would rather celebrate with your children separately.

As divorce mediators, we understand that there is no “one size fits all” for creating a parenting plan, so we engage in an in-depth discussion regarding your schedule, your children’s schedules (school and extracurricular), the holidays you regard as important, and other special factors that you may hold dear. Then, we create a customized parenting plan that is geared toward keeping up your family traditions, and creating a new sense of stability and consistency for your children.

  • Legal Custody:

The other part of child custody in California is referred to as legal custody. Put simply, this is the ability to make important decisions about your child’s life. Such important decisions are usually in relation to education, religion, and well-being. The typical starting point in divorce mediation is for the parents to continue to make these important decisions jointly, as mediation seeks to facilitate a positive co-parenting relationship.

The idea is that even if the parents are divorced, they can still place their children’s interests ahead of their own opinions about each other. If this is not possible, however, we may look to whether having the parents decide that one of them be responsible for these important decisions resonates better for them. This is referred to as sole legal custody. If one or both parents is not comfortable with this idea, we may also explore the idea of making agreements in advance about when the children can change schools or what church the parents can take the children to. Again, there is no template that is right for everyone so we treat each family on an individual basis.

We can appreciate that California custody law is very intricate, and that judges often decide these matters on a case-by-case basis. We also promote having parents make their own decisions regarding custody on their own, whether that be with the assistance of a trained divorce mediator or otherwise. We believe that unless there are special circumstances involved, the parents are the ones in the best position to make loving, responsible choices for their children. Divorce mediation does not take away your ability to parent. Instead, it creates healthy boundaries in which you can co-parent with your ex-spouse and recreate a stable and consistent environment for your children.

If you are looking for a customized parenting plan that works for you, contact us today at (949) 558-2624.

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