Solving Complex Family Law Issues with Creative Strategies

Orange County Child Custody Attorney

Of all the concerns on your mind during a divorce or domestic separation, your child custody arrangement and parental rights are likely at the top of that list.

  • How will you and your co-parent share child-caring responsibilities after you split?
  • How often will you see your children and how much time will you spend with them?
  • Will you have the legal right to make important decisions in your children’s lives?
  • What if you or your co-parent wants to move away with your kids?

Custody and visitation issues can be a source of stress for parents. Emotions can run high when your parenting rights are threatened, especially in the midst of a divorce or domestic separation. You may feel entitled to greater custody rights but your co-parent may not agree. However, the right approach, carried out with a deft hand, can help you and your co-parent come to a child custody arrangement that works for your family.

Every family is different, facing unique challenges based on their circumstances and needs. Determining your child custody and visitation rights is a deeply personal process where the courts look into all the relevant factors before making their decision. This allows you to take a nuanced approach specifically tailored to your family. It’s important to find an Orange County child custody attorney who understands your goals and advocates for a successful resolution on your terms.

At Moradi Saslaw, our Orange County family lawyers can help you create and negotiate a custody and visitation plan best suited for your family.

California Child Custody Laws

Orange County courts base their custody and visitation decisions on the best interests of your child. Your child’s well-being is the family court’s top priority.

When it comes to contested child custody cases, Orange County courts encourage parents to resolve their child custody and visitation issues out of court in a non-adversarial environment whenever possible. In general, courts consider a drawn-out and acrimonious court case to be counterproductive to a child’s best interests. To avoid expensive litigation, you and your co-parent can negotiate a co-parenting agreement, settlement agreement, or go through a collaborative process with a group of supportive professionals.

If you fail to come to a settlement agreement out of the courtroom, Orange County family courts will require you to try mediation before your case goes to a court hearing.

When making decisions for custody and visitation, courts will consider the following factors:

  • Maintaining the status quo – Unless they have reason to believe it would be to the child’s detriment, courts are reluctant to upset the child care or custodial arrangement that you already have in place. This is especially true with younger children, who benefit from stability and continuity. If a child has been living under the care of one parent after separation, that parent is likely to keep physical custody.
  • Willingness to cooperate – Courts do not look kindly on parents who try to weaponize custody as a way to keep their children away from the other parent. Unless the other parent presents a threat to your children’s health, safety, or welfare, custody orders must ensure “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents. The more you demonstrate a willingness to communicate with your co-parent and compromise for the best interests of your children, the better the court will receive your custody requests. This is especially important if you want to move away after your separation.
  • The child’s preferences – If your children are mature enough to have a say in their custodial arrangement, then the court will take that into consideration. This is usually inappropriate to ask of younger children but the court may give great weight to the preferences of older kids, especially teenagers.
  • Domestic violence – California law presumes that a domestic violence perpetrator is not suitable to hold custody over their children. If your spouse can show evidence of domestic abuse, you face an uphill battle for custody.

When in doubt, the court will err towards what it believes is in the best interests of your child. The court’s decision will become legally binding once it’s filed as a custody order. Court custody orders may be temporary or final (permanent). A custody order remains in effect until it expires, gets modified, is rescinded, or terminates by operation of law.

Most Common Types of Child Custody Arrangements

Physical Custody vs. Legal Custody

In a custody order, Orange County courts will make decisions on both physical custody and legal custody. You have physical custody when your child lives with you. You have legal custody when you have the right to make decisions about the health, education, and welfare of your child. Just because you get physical custody doesn’t mean you’ll also get legal custody – and vice versa.

Although courts may refer to one parent as having “primary” physical custody or being the “primary caretaker” of the children, these terms don’t actually carry legal meaning. Instead, they are used to describe levels of physical responsibility for children under different parenting plans.

Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody

Sole custody gives physical or legal custodial rights to a single parent. Joint custody involves both parents sharing physical or legal custody, although their shares may not always be equal.

Examples of Child Custody and Visitation Arrangements

In Orange County, child custody can be awarded in a number of ways:

One parent has sole physical custody and sole legal custody.

When one parent gets awarded sole physical custody, their child lives with them full-time. The non-custodial parent usually gets visitation rights as ordered by the court.

Visitation may be unsupervised or supervised if the court deems it necessary. For example, courts may require supervision if one parent has a protective order against the other.

An award of sole legal custody means that one parent has the exclusive right to make decisions about the child’s home environment, health, education, and well-being. The non-custodial parent does not get a say in these decisions.

One parent has sole physical custody; both parents share joint legal custody.

A parent with sole physical custody has their child live with them full-time. The court will often give supervised or unsupervised visitation rights to parents who don’t get physical custody.

When both parents share joint legal custody, they share the right and responsibility to make important decisions about their child’s safety, health, education, and well-being. However, this doesn’t mean the parents must consult each other or agree before making these decisions.

Instead, each parent gets the independent right to make such decisions, unless otherwise ordered by the court. (For example, the court’s custody order may include restrictions on whether a parent can unilaterally move away with their child.)

Both parents share joint physical custody; one parent has sole legal custody.

If you get awarded joint physical custody with your co-parent, your child will take turns living with you to ensure frequent and continuing contact with you both.

However, this does not mean that your child’s time will be equally divided between each parent. Joint custody arrangements often treat one parent as the primary caretaker, giving them an unequal timeshare compared to the other parent.

Whichever parent has sole legal custody has the exclusive right to make decisions about their child’s residence, home environment, healthcare, school, and welfare. Even if the other parent shares physical custody, they do not have the right to make these decisions.

Both parents share joint physical and legal custody.

In a “pure” joint custody arrangement, both parents share joint physical and legal custody. They both have the power to supervise and control their children. In addition, their children spend time living with both parents. However, the time spent living with each parent may not be equal. This is especially true if one parent is the primary caretaker of the children.

If both parents share joint legal custody over their children, they share the responsibility to make important decisions about their children’s lives. However, that does not mean you and your co-parent must discuss your issues and come to an agreement before proceeding.

Rather, each parent has the independent right to make decisions about their children’s health, schooling, and welfare. These decisions can stand even if the other parent disagrees, so long as the actions don’t violate a court order or prove to be to the detriment of the child.

Can a Child Custody Order Be Changed?

Because of Orange County’s interest in the welfare of minor children, courts always have jurisdiction to make or change custody orders – even after a divorce is finalized. In fact, changes to custody agreements are quite common as children become older and families change. A child’s best interests may be different at age 15 compared to age 10 or 5.

The decision to modify an existing custody order will depend on whether the previous order was a temporary order or a final order. If the previous custody order is a temporary order, the court can determine what would be in the best interests of the child moving forward. You don’t need to prove a change in circumstances to requests modifications.

If the previous order is a final or permanent custody order, the court will determine whether there’s been a sufficient change in circumstances. The change must affect the child in a way that makes custody modification necessary for the child’s welfare and benefit.

Significant changes in circumstances may include but are not limited to:

  • A parent who wants to change their residence or move away
  • An older child’s wishes to increase or decrease visitation or custody with a parent
  • A child develops a health condition that requires special treatment
  • A parent changing jobs or work schedules
  • A child’s school schedule getting altered
  • Evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, or neglect

As usual, Orange County courts will prioritize the best interests of the child above all else.

What Happens If a Parent Violates a Child Custody Order?

Violating a child custody order in Orange County can subject you to civil and criminal penalties. Not only that, but if you violate the terms of your custody agreement or interfere with your co-parent’s custodial rights, you could actually lose custody.

Child abduction or unlawful taking can happen when one parent takes away their child without the other parent’s consent – or refuses to allow the other parent custodial access to their child. Withholding or concealing a child counts as abduction.

Violating another parent’s custody rights is against California law no matter how old your child is, what motivations you had to take them away, what type of relationship your child had with each parent, or even if your child consented to the taking.

In child abduction cases, the aggrieved parent can sue the parent who violates the custody order. A lawsuit can recover damages for emotional distress and attorney’s fees. If the court finds that the abducting parent acted with malicious intent, the aggrieved parent may even win punitive damages that punish the bad behavior.

In addition, the “abduction” of a child is a California state criminal offense that comes with potential fines and prison time. The consequences get worse with aggravating factors such as threats, exposing the child to injury or harm, taking the child out of the country, denying the child healthcare or education during the abduction, or repeated attempts at abduction.

Violating visitation rights isn’t as severe as abducting a child or interfering with another parent’s custody. If one parent sabotages their co-parent’s visitation schedule, the matter must be resolved through Orange County family law courts – by holding them in contempt of court, modifying the custody order, or modifying or terminating their spousal support payments.

The child custody and visitation rights you get will factor into other aspects of your separation, as well. For example, if your co-parent gets a greater timeshare and you both have equal incomes, you will likely have to pay child support. A parent who has sole physical custody may get the family home when it comes to property division if the court decides that is in the best interests of your child.

Orange County child custody is a complex area of law with extremely high stakes. A willingness to cooperate and compromise will get you far – and the right advocate can guide you towards the best possible outcome for your family. Call the Orange County child custody lawyers at Moradi Saslaw now at (949) 688-8880 or use our online contact form.