I want to give you the custody primer.
I am assuming that you have not been to family court ..yet. I want you to know what to expect and what to watch out for. This way you know the context so you don’t make “the three most common custody mistakes” . If you have been to San Diego family court and made these mistakes things can be worked on.
These are the fatal mistakes people most often make in Family Court. For the uninitiated, GETTING a custody / visitation dispute through Family Court can be a byzantine and counter intuitive process. And timing is everything: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What do I mean? That most of the worst mistakes are made by honest, well-meaning parents.
If you don’t understand the system, it is easy to get undone by it. For example, Imagine getting into an unfamiliar rental car and trying to drive off in the middle of a rainstorm without knowing where the windshield wiper controls are. Dangerous stuff.
You need to know San Diego is a “recommending county.” That means every disputed custody / visitation case goes through mediation. I like to say that your case is heard twice: the first and best time is in mediation. You’ll see what I mean.[The second time is in Court.]In mediation you meet with a mental health professional who recommends to the judge what the parenting plan should be. The judge makes the final decision but they aren’t required to deviate from the mediator’s recommendations. The judge will rely very heavily on the mediator’s recommendations, often adopting them entirely. [In “non-recommending counties”, the mediator doesn’t write recommendations.]
DON’T #1: Not knowing how CUSTODY / VISITATION decisions are based. OK, I get it nobody is at his best when getting divorced. A parent sometimes wants the judge to punish the other for infidelity, or for dishonesty. This dishonesty or infidelity is so awful it ought to disqualify an adult from being a role model for the children.This conclusion is common.
But the first thing you need to realize when you get into the family court system is the mediator and the judge will be focused on coming up with a plan to ensure “frequent and continuous contact” between the children and each parent in a way that is in the “best interests of the children.” See how profoundly unhelpful it is to just know the rule? What you need to know is, “How will those rules likely be applied in MY situation?”
DON’T #2: Going into family mediation unprepared. In a “recommending county” like San Diego, mediation is the “sweet spot.” When mediation goes badly, it is nearly impossible to make right again. You have just one chance to get it right. If you were scheduled to participate in an athletic event – a marathon, for example – you’d train and prepare extensively .Yet most parents go into mediation “cold”, with no more advance training than to dress modestly, cover their tattoos and be polite. To adequately prepare for mediation, what most of us need is a crash course in child development, co-parenting psychology and an intense session with an expert playing devil’s advocate with us to test our own theories.This is a fork in the road with your children’s relationship ,it is important you get it right . The time and money invested in this exercise is surprisingly modest compared to the cost of not having it.
Here are some ways family mediation can go south on the unwary:
Mom has had primary custody for years, assumes that’s the way things will always be. Dad filed a motion to change custody because the children are teenagers missing school and failing school. Mom counted on what she had “always heard” – i.e the rumor that judge’s favor mothers – and not only took no corrective action, but didn’t appear to the mediator to recognize there was anything amiss with her parenting. Mediator recommended a change of custody. Attorney for the minor children agree – even though the children wanted to remain with mom – and the children went to live with dad.
Dad files a motion for change of custody because, he says, that the mother is frustrating his relationship with the daughter. The mom had arguably engaged in some pretty rude behavior toward the dad, but ultimately the dad couldn’t point the mediator to proof that he had enthusiastically pursued the relationship between himself and the child. In other words, he figured the change of custody would happen as a punishment against the other parent, so he lost focus on who matters most in Family Court: the child.
DON’T #3 . Don’t be a Pollyanna. This is America, where truth and justice always prevail, right? Correction: You are now in Family Court, which is that part of America which can feel like the Twilight Zone unless you’re ready for it. To assume that everything will be alright just because it should be alright is just…well, you know what they say about assumptions. Make no mistake: the judge and the mediator will, with only the rarest exception, work hard to make a just, conscientious result for the child. They’ll need your help in doing that, and you can’t help them do it if you don’t realize what is the mission you’re on.
I know this information is likely much more direct than you might be used to seeing on a family lawyer’s website But, if you do not know these foundation facts, you have nothing to build on. Hopefully, this puts child custody in context so you can so you can apply the all the other details I and others share. It is my child custody “cheat sheet.” If you decided you want to know more about the systems I use to get you through custody disputes, call me. I can help.
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