what are shared custody schedules?
San Diego Child Custody Attorney: What determines custody and visitation?
I’d like to talk to you about custody and visitation in family courts in San Diego. You may be confused with the terminology used by the judges and the mediators regarding custody. What’s legal custody? What’s physical custody? What’s joint custody? What’s joint legal custody? Anyway, we’re going to spell those things out for you.
The most common kind of legal custody is joint legal custody. And that’s commonly ordered. And what it means that each of you parents has the right to participate equally in the decision-making regarding your child’s health, education and welfare. It’s as simple as that. It’s kind of unusual for one parent to have, for example, sole legal custody. That can happen where one parent has demonstrated, well, a history of abuse, or other factors that disqualify that parent from really been an active participant in decision-making for the child. So the general rule is, you’re probably looking a joint legal custody.
Now let’s talk about physical custody. Joint physical custody is maybe the most misunderstood term that is used in family court. A lot of uninitiated litigants think that that means that they’re looking at a quote unquote 50:50 child sharing arrangement — where the child’s going to be with each parent half of the time. And that’s not what it means it all. It simply means that the child is going to be spending significant times of physical custody with each parent. Not necessarily equal. You could have a joint physical custody order where a child’s with one parent 10% of the time and the other parent 90% of the time. So don’t be confused by the terms. Don’t assume that joint physical custody means a 50:50 sharing plan.
Now, what goes into the judge making decision about who’s going to have –what we would call primary physical custody? And, we’d start with what’s the status quo being the most important factor. What’s been going on? How long have the parents been separated? Is there a pattern that’s already established that the child is accustomed to? Is there a pattern we don’t want to disrupt? So does the first thing that the court is going to be looking at. The court is going to assume, unless proven otherwise, that each of you is a competent and caring parent. And unless that’s not true, it’s not really a good idea to start the mud slinging. If you really want World War III, and the other party has it coming, go to it. But, if this is simply a situation where you and the other parent, whether it’s a wife, girlfriend, boyfriend are on the outs, but you are still good parents, then you’re probably gonna best served by finding a way to work through your disagreements.
Now, you will have gone through mediation by the time the time you get in front of the judge. You might have already reached an agreement. If so, there’s not really much to talk about. You’re not going to have to argue to the judge and dredge up all the facts and allegations that are involved in the case. You can simply agree that whatever agreement you’ve reached can now be made an order of the court. And that’s really a very common practice. I know that lot’s of people think that family court is going to look like what they’ve seen on television. It’s very, very, rarely the case. Most cases do resolve by agreement and they resolve with both parents going home relatively happy or relatively unhappy as the case may be. I look forward to talking to you about your case.
It would be nice if there was a published “menu” somewhere that told parents what their options are for a custody / visitation schedule.
Some states actually have these boilerplate schedules. California does not. We here are instead left with the practically infinite number of variables when it comes to scheduling the children’s time with each parent. Some choices are eliminated naturally as a result of logistics. Say, for example, the parents live across the county from one another (in San Diego, that’s a one hour drive!). The children are school age, so they need to be able to get to the same school each day and not have to rise at 4:00 a.m. to commute from one parent’s home to the other. You’ve probably already guessed that midweek visitation will be a logistical nightmare for these parents and for the children, even though it’s possible everyone involved would love to see it happen.
There’s a lot of talk about “50/50” custody sharing arrangements, where the children share equal time with each parent. Some parents have reasoned that “frequent and continuous contact” (that’s the statutory lingo) means “equal” time. It doesn’t. The overriding rule: The best interests of the children. That means what works for a toddler isn’t going to be the same for your teenager. And whatever the judge decides fills that bill might seem unfair to one parent, or even to both.
Judges have gotten used to the idea that they have to be thoughtful and creative in coming up with “parenting plans”, the nomenclature given to custody / visitation schedules. Know what you want. Be prepared to explain why your plan is the one best suited to the children’s needs both in family mediation and with the judge. Get expert advice. The uninitiated often don’t recognize what’s most important to judges, and which facts might not matter at all.
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