How to Go About Child Custody the Right Way

In general, “child custody” refers to all the important decisions regarding the raising of a child, including his or her health, education, and welfare. Custody is basically divided into two parts: (a) legal custody (the decision-making part) and (b) physical custody, as in who is responsible for the child’s physical well-being. Unless the parents share joint custody (equal time with each parent), a decision must be made as to who will serve as primary custodian and who gets time- allotted periods of physical custody (also referred to as “visitation”).

In California, generally, estranged couples have several options concerning child custody:

  • Resolve things between themselves and/or through their attorneys.
  • Work out a parenting plan through private mediation.
  • Devise a solution using court-sponsored mediation services (e.g. Family Court Services).

Private mediation involves the use of a third-party counselor or professional mediator to help work out a parenting plan acceptable to both parties.

In disputed custody cases where a case has been filed in court, the courts offer a free mediation service through Family Court Services (FCS), where parties meet with a child custody mediator, without lawyers. If despite everyone’s best efforts, no agreement is reached, the mediator makes a recommendation to the court as to what he/she believes the parties’ parenting plan should entail and each party will have an opportunity to dispute or agree to the terms presented before the court adopts a parenting plan for the parties.

In my opinion, private mediation may be the most successful option, provided the two parties can afford to pay both attorney and third-party mediator fees. Whichever option you choose, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Document everything. The more you can document who said what, at what time,
    and what happened when, the stronger your custody case will be. Simply saying,
    “Well, he said he would pick her up after school every day” isn’t the same as having a
    detailed log where you noted this statement at the time it was made and the dates and
    times that he failed to abide by said statement. When it comes to documentation in a
    custody dispute, there’s no such thing as overkill.
  • Don’t lash out. Losing your temper or shouting at the other party during custody discussions/mediation only demonstrates to the mediator that you’re quick-tempered and unable to control your feelings. This will inevitably detract from what you most want to convey—your love and concern for the child.
  • Avoid the negative. It will only hurt your case if you continually emphasize what a bad parent your spouse is. What counts is letting the mediator know what you bring to the table—such things as a flexible work schedule, a nurturing home environment, a support system of family and friends. The old saying, “You catch more flies with honey,” applies in this situation.

Finally, please remember that when child custody is in dispute, what matters most is protecting and caring for the children involved, not whatever is best or most convenient for the parents.

Are you in need of legal counseling for a child custody dispute? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law, estate planning, bankruptcy, DUIs, and landlord/tenant disputes.

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