Parents that separate
will need to have a plan for deciding how they will share and divide their
parenting responsibilities. This plan can be called a parenting plan, a
time-share plan, or an agreement ("stipulation") regarding child custody and
visitation. Any plan must be in writing and signed by both parents and a
In California, either
parent can have custody, or the parents can share custody. The judge makes
the final decision but usually will approve the arrangement both parents
agree upon. If the parents can't agree, the judge will make a decision at a
court hearing. The judge will usually not make a decision about
custody/visitation until after the parents have met with a mediator.
If parents can't agree
on custody/visitation on their own, the judge will have the parents meet
with Family Court Services to see if an agreement can be reached with the
help of a mediator.
If mediation doesn't
work, the judge will make a decision at a hearing. In some courts, the
mediator will make a recommendation to the judge about custody/visitation
orders. Ask the mediator how the process works in your local court.
The judge may appoint
an evaluator to recommend a parenting plan. A parent can also ask for an
evaluation, but the request may not be granted. Parents may have to pay for
The judge also may
appoint lawyers for children in custody cases.
The law says that
judges must give custody according to what is best for the child. In most
cases, judges give custody to one or both parents. But there are times when
custody is given to a friend or relative.
After a judge makes a
custody/visitation order, one or both parents may want to change the order.
If the parents can't agree on a change, one of the parents must file a
motion with the court asking for a change. If you want to change your order,
you and the other parent will probably have to meet with a mediator to talk
about why you want the order to change.
The issue of child
custody can be modified until the time that the children have reached the
age of eighteen, or, if the children are nineteen and still attending high
school any time that there is a problem with the current custody orders if
the circumstances warrant it.
Telephone (310) 365-2800