When the parents of minor children divorce, child custody is often a central concern for both parents. Custody decisions affect children intimately, determining where they live, which schools they attend, and which relationships they develop. Parents—and the courts—must balance several factors in finding the best resolution for a difficult situation, and in many cases, the preferred resolution is some form of joint custody. This is a situation in which each parent undertakes significant child-rearing obligations. If you need help or representation in working out or litigating a joint custody agreement, contact the San Diego child custody lawyers at Doppelt and Forney.When is Joint Custody Appropriate, and What Does It Entail?
In all custody matters, the legal standard under which decisions are made is “the best interests of the child.” While this term seems somewhat vague, it means that the family court’s focus is to determine which plan, in its judgment, best promotes the health, safety, and overall welfare of the child.
When feasible and appropriate, California courts will generally presume that a joint custody arrangement is in the “best interests” of a minor child so that the child can maintain strong and positive relationships with both parents. But what exactly is “joint custody?”
Joint custody can be contrasted with sole custody. With joint custody, the parents share custodial responsibilities; with sole custody, only one parent has custody, although the other parent may have visitation rights. Generally, sole custody applies in cases in which one parent is unfit or unable to care for the child (for example, in cases involving physical abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, incarceration, and so on).
In addition, there are two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to the right to reside with the child, while legal custody refers to the right to make fundamental decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, including matters related to education, medical care, religious education, and extracurricular activities.
Joint custody can be arranged in an almost limitless number of ways. It does not require that the parents share equal time with their children, but that is certainly an option. Generally, this will work when the parents live near each other, when both maintain households that can suitably accommodate the children, and when they are willing to work with each other.
However, in many joint custody arrangements, one parent will have “primary custody”—that is, the child will live primarily with that parent but also spend significant time with the other. This may be the only practical solution for situations in which the parents live far apart (so that the children need attend only one school) or a parent has a job that requires travel or is deployed in the military out of the country.
Even when both parents agree on some form of joint custody, however, it is often the case that they cannot agree on the exact terms of the arrangement. When disputes arise, a family court will require that they undergo mediation in an attempt to resolve any remaining issues; trial court litigation is only a last resort.
When both parents are willing, they can negotiate their own joint custody agreement. In significant ways, this is the optimal solution. While a family court must scrutinize any proposal, it is likely to approve a negotiated plan because it presumably reflects the parents’ mutual consensus as to what would be best for their children. Furthermore, parents are more likely to adhere to a plan that they formulated, rather than a plan imposed upon them.Discuss Your Child’s Needs with a Sensitive San Diego Attorney
Whether you need help negotiating a joint custody agreement, or you have confronted an impasse with your estranged spouse in reaching an agreement, an experienced child custody or visitation attorney can help you. For legal advice and representation, contact one of the experienced San Diego attorneys at Doppelt and Forney. Call 800.769.4748 or contact us online to set up a free consultation. We help people throughout the San Diego metropolitan area, including residents of Chula Vista, Coronado, Del Mar, Carlsbad, Encinitas, La Jolla, Oceanside, Escondido, Ramona, Rancho Santa Fe, San Marcos, Valley Center, and Vista.