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Corona Child Custody Lawyer

In cases involving children, one of the most intense issues parents deal with is whom a child will be spending his/her time with. This is called parenting time and is at the heart of child custody litigation. As a result, children are the ones who are affected the most. Unless parties are able to come to an agreement as to custody, court intervention will be necessary so that the court determines what is in the best interests of the children. This is when a skilled and experience family law attorney may be crucial to represent your interests as well your children’s best interests. Our office prepares parties on a frequent basis for custody hearings and mediation, otherwise known as Child Custody Recommending Counseling (CCRC) in order to maximize their chances in obtaining the best results.

There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal Custody in Corona

Legal custody is the legal right to make decisions as to a child’s safety, health, and welfare which includes decisions as to a child’s education and medical needs. In most cases, both parents have joint legal custody unless one parent can prove that the other has shown a complete inability to make a decision regarding their child. What if parents that have joint legal custody cannot agree on some issue? In those circumstances, the court has the ability to grant one parent the ability to make unilateral decisions relating to some specific issue such as education or healthcare.

Physical Custody in Corona

Physical custody is the amount of time that a child will spend with either parent. In many cases, one parent is designated as the “primary” custodial parent, which is the parent with whom the child will reside and the other parent visits the child. The court can also order equal parenting time or nearly equal parenting time. Legally, the courts do not use the term “primary” parent when making orders for parenting time. The courts grant either joint physical custody or “sole” physical custody to one parent and visitation to the other. In all cases, it is important that the court enter an order or judgment for a specific parenting plan. Usually, the more specific the parenting plan the better the parents and children will be because there will be no ambiguity in the plan for exchanging the child, when holiday time will occur for each parent, what days of the week each parent will have the child, when parties may vacation with the child, and so forth.

Visitation

The parent who does not have primary custody of the child will have visitation rights, set forth in a “parenting plan”. In most cases, a regular visitation and holiday visitation schedule will be ordered which are unique to each case and set of circumstances. While in most cases most visitations are unsupervised, there are unique situations that warrant supervised visitation. These are ordered when there is a risk of danger to the child if visitation were unsupervised from the visiting parent.

Supervised Visitation

When the court finds that some danger exists or that it is not in a child’s best interest that a parent have unsupervised visits with the child, the court can order that a parent’s time with a child be supervised by some other third party. Typically, the court orders a specific person or persons to act as the supervisor, which might include a family friend, grandparent, or another familiar person. In some cases, however, the court is concerned that unless the visit occurs in an extremely controlled environment, the child’s best interests will not be served. In those cases, the court may order a professional supervisor licensed through the State of California to act as the visitation monitor. These monitors keep a detailed report of the visits, which might occur at a park or similar location, or in a special facility.

What is Best Interests of the Child mean?

In California, the paramount concern for every family law judge is to make orders that most benefit children involved in the proceeding. Whether it is a divorce (also called dissolution of marriage), paternity, or post-judgment case, the same laws apply to how your Corona, Riverside County family court judge is supposed to view the case. The California Legislature demanded that the courts consider as its top priority the “best interests” of children when making orders, not the parties to the case. There are a number of considerations that the court must follow when considering what is in a child’s best interests.

What factors does the Court consider when determine Best Interests for Child Custody?

The court is obligated to look at a wide variety of factors when considering what parenting plan arrangement is in a child’s best interest when there is a divorce, legal separation or paternity case pending. Keep in mind that generally everything that might possibly have relevance probably does in the court’s view, so it is important to be well prepared for any child custody and visitation hearing. Generally, the courts consider that a child should have “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents. Studies have shown that children are better off when they have a good relationship with both parents. The court also considers whether a parent has a history of alcohol or substance abuse issues, the living arrangements of each parent, the history of a parent’s mental illness, each parent’s involvement with parenting, the bond the child has with each parent, the living arrangements for the child’s siblings, and other similar considerations.

Family Code Sections 3020 and 3040

When determining a specific custody and visitation schedule, the courts look to the best interests of the child. The factors that are considered are enumerated under Family Code Sections 3020 and 3040.

Family Code Section 3020 discusses that it is the public policy in California to assure that the health, safety, and welfare of children be the court’s primary concern in determining the best interest of children when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children. This section also declares that the perpetration of child abuse or domestic violence in a household where a child resides is detrimental to the child. (This legislative finding is found further described in Family Code 3044, which states that a parent is presumed to be unfit to have custody if he or she perpetrated domestic abuse).

Importantly, Family Code 3020 also states that family courts, including the Riverside Family Court that services Corona, Eastvale and Norco, assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing.

Family Code Section 3040 describes the order of preference for custody of children, which is:

  1. To both parents jointly after considering, among other factors, which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the noncustodial parent. The courts are not allowed to prefer a parent as custodian because of that parent’s sex.
  2. If to neither parent, to the person or persons in whose home the child has been living in a wholesome and stable environment.
  3. To any other person or persons deemed by the court to be suitable and able to provide adequate and proper care and guidance for the child.

Family Code 3040 also states that the immigration status of a parent, legal guardian, or relative shall not disqualify the parent, legal guardian, or relative from receiving custody. Thus, although a parent or guardian may be “illegally” within the United States, it is not a bar to having custody. Practically speaking, however, a parent’s status as an illegal alien may result in the family court viewing that parent as somewhat unstable in that they might be deported.

Family Code 3040 also describes what happens in cases where a child has more than two parents. For example, the law allows a person that has been significantly involved in a child’s life to petition the court to “join” the case and seek custody. In those cases, the court will allocate custody and visitation among the parents based on the best interest of the child, including, but not limited to, addressing the child’s need for continuity and stability by preserving established patterns of care and emotional bonds. The court may order that not all parents share legal or physical custody of the child if the court finds that it would not be in the best interest of the child.

Child Testimony

When can a child express their own preference and opinion? Would this have substantial weight to the court? If not, what can be done?

There is no bright line rule as to the particular age when a child is able to express an opinion that will be heavily weighed into the court’s decision when determining custodial orders. However, Family Code 3042 states that children age 14 years or older may testify (or otherwise have their opinion heard, perhaps through “minor’s counsel”) unless it would be in the best interests of the child to disallow the testimony. The general understanding is that the older a child becomes, a court will be more inclined to give their opinions and preferences more weight.

If the child is still quite young but is verbally eloquent, for example 9 or 10, the court servicing Corona, CA may allow the child’s wishes to be heard.

Child testimony is governed primarily by Family Code 3042 and California Rule of Court 5.250. Cal. Rule of Court 5.250 expands on Family Code 3042 (which describes when a child is permitted to have input into a family law divorce or paternity case), and identifies the factors that the court must consider when determining when a child’s best interests are served by allowing them to testify. The factors include whether the child is emotionally equipped to testify, the nature of the testimony and issues, and possible detriments to the child by testifying.

In all cases, the family court judge is in control of the child’s testimony and is in charge of ensuring the child’s participation doesn’t harm them.

Custody Evaluations

A parent or other interested person can request that the court appoint a Family Code 3111 child custody evaluator. These evaluators might also be referred to as a “730 Evaluator” after Evidence Code 730, which is the general provision that allows the court in any court proceeding to appoint an expert. Family Code Section 3111 states generally that the court may appoint a child custody evaluator to conduct a child custody evaluation in cases where the court determines it is in the best interests of the child.

In most cases, the court-appointed child custody evaluator will file a written confidential report on his or her evaluation. At least 10 days before any hearing regarding custody of the child, the report must be filed with the clerk of the court in which the custody hearing will be conducted and served on the parties or their attorneys, and any other counsel appointed for the child pursuant to Section 3150.

A child custody evaluation, investigation, or assessment, and any resulting report, may be considered by the court only if it is conducted in accordance with the requirements set forth in the standards adopted by the Judicial Council pursuant to Section 3117. For example, if the evaluator does not meet the minimum requirements to serve as the evaluator or if the report does not contain the minimum required information, the court will not consider the report as evidence. However, this does not preclude the consideration of a child custody evaluation report that contains non-substantive or inconsequential errors or both.

A child custody evaluator would be able to witness the child and a parent in their natural environment such as at a park to see the interaction and relationship between the parent and the child. This will provide information to the evaluator in order to provide to the court what their professional opinion is as to what the best interests of the child is through a report. The evaluator will also conduct psychological tests and evaluations of the child and parents. The evaluator might even interview people close to the child, such as grandparents and the significant other of either parent, the child’s daycare provider or teachers, and the child’s doctors. Although obtaining a Family Code 3111 can be costly, this could be mean the difference between a favorable and an unfavorable child custody and visitation outcome for you.

Contact one of our attorneys at Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, LLP today to determine whether a child custody evaluation would be helpful for your case.

The Court’s Ability to Make Custodial Orders Regarding Children

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

Before any kind of custodial order related to children can be issued, the court has to make sure that it has the jurisdiction, or power, over the children. This is typically achieved by the answers to one threshold questions: Has the child(ren) been residents of the State of California for the previous six months prior to the filing of the family law matter, or if the child is less than six months old was the child born in California?

Although it sounds simple, this can be a rather complex area especially when it relates to parents and families that have crossed over the California border right before they filed for custodial orders in the California courts. Having an experienced attorney to assist you with your jurisdictional issue may not just be preferable but necessary.

Mediation and the Court Date

In Riverside County, parties that request for custody and visitation orders are required to attend a mediation appointment and counseling appointment prior to their court date. At these appointments, both parties meet with a court-appointed mediator who will analyze and recommend a custody and visitation arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. This arrangement will be issued in the form of a report that will be filed with the court and provided to both parties for the review. Should there be any disapprovals from either side as to the terms of the report, the parties will have a chance to challenge the report at the court hearing.

Keep in mind that mandatory custody mediation in Riverside County is different from a 3111 Child Custody Evaluation as a mediator will not witness the child and the parents in their “natural state” but will merely listen to each parent’s verbal statements before making a professional opinion as to what they believe to be in the child’s best interests. While a 3111 Child Custody Evaluator must be requested and appointed, a mediator is automatically appointed by the courts prior to the court date.

Check out our custody mediation guide here.

Registering an Out-of-State Custody Order

With so many people relocating to California from other states, enforcement and modification of child custody orders can be issues of concern for parties. When trying to enforce or modify a child custody order that originated from another state, obtaining a “certified” copy of your most recent child custody order is exceedingly important as the Riverside Family Law Court will not register an out of state order unless it is marked as a certified copy from the originating courthouse. A certified copy typically means the document has been stamped or imprinted with a seal that certifies that the court order originated from that particular courthouse. This is to prevent parties from engaging in fraudulently activity by certifying the orders’ authenticity.

The possibility of enforcing or modifying a custody order is dependent on the facts of each case.  Please call our office to discuss the facts of your case.

 

What is the order of preference for child custody orders?

When the court is charged with determining a parenting plan for a child, the family court judge must follow the law in determining the order of preference for caretakers. First, the law wants both parents to be involved with the parenting of the child, and if one parent is unable or unwilling to parent the child then the preference is for the other parent to handle all the parenting. Next, if the parents are unavailable to care for the child then the court can look to others to parent the child, including relatives and non-relatives with a close relationship with the child.

What is the UCCJEA for Corona custody cases?

The UCCJEA stands for “Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act”, which is a set of laws that has been adopted by every state within the United States except one. The statutes are meant to provide a clear way for courts of different states and countries to deal with issues of custody when more than one state or country may have an interest in making orders. The UCCJEA prevents forum shopping, where a parent might move from state to state to try and get the best custody orders. As part of the UCCJEA, states are required to acknowledge another state’s court orders for parenting time and custody, and may only modify another state’s or country’s orders under certain circumstances.

What is the “home state” for purposes of child custody orders?

A child’s “home state” is where they have lived for the past six months, or if the child is a newborn where they have lived since birth if they are less than six months old. A child’s home state might change once, twice or even more often over the child’s lifetime as a minor.

When can California modify another state’s custody orders under the UCCJEA?

When a parent lives in Corona or elsewhere in Riverside County, and the parents have custody orders from another state or country already, there are only certain circumstances where the courts in California are permitted to modify the custody orders. In order to modify another jurisdiction’s valid custody order, California must be the “home state” of the child, which means that the child has had to live in California for at least six months prior to filing the modification action. Next, neither parent can still be living in the issuing state’s jurisdiction. For example, if a mother and child moved from Arizona to California, and Arizona had previously made child custody orders and the father remains living in Arizona, the California court is not permitted to modify Arizona’s orders unless the court in Arizona specifically allows California to take control of the case. California courts also have the ability to modify another jurisdiction’s custody orders when there is an emergency, but those orders are temporary in nature only and the issuing state retains jurisdiction over the matter.

What is Child Custody Recommendation Counseling (CCRC)?

CCRC is a mandatory mediation session required by California law prior to a hearing on custody and visitation. During CCRC, parents speak with a court-representative about an appropriate parenting plan, and the court officer writes a recommendation to the judge. Being prepared for CCRC is an absolute necessity, as the recommendation made to the judge carries a lot of weight. However, judges are not obligated to adopt a CCRC recommendation report at the hearing.

What happens during a child custody hearing?

For Corona family law participants, going to court can be one of the most daunting and emotional challenges that a parent will ever face. Being prepared for court is essential. Wear appropriate clothing (business casual is preferred). Prior to the hearing, the family court judge will review the CCRC report, and in some cases might take testimony from the parties and others. Parents are always encouraged to reach agreements outside of court. If the parents are unable to reach an agreement, the judge will make custody orders, usually on the day of the hearing. The attorneys will then prepare a formal “Findings and Order After Hearing” to document the orders.

What if I don’t like my CCRC recommendation?

There are a variety of ways to dispute a CCRC recommendation. First, you can orally disagree with the report during the hearing. In this case, you or your attorney will prepare a bullet-point list of items to discuss with the judge. This is effective, but usually not the most effective way to combat a “bad” report. Second, you can write a declaration setting forth your objections to the report. Third, you can call the court officer that made the written recommendation as a witness and cross-examine them about the report. If this is to be done, there are a number of strict rules that must be followed (including getting the appropriate court permission and hearing on calendar, issuing a subpoena to the recommending officer, paying a witness fee, giving notice to the other side, etc.) Third, you can ask the court to set an “evidentiary” hearing pursuant to Family Code 217 to allow for the cross-examination of witnesses relating to the parenting plan.

How do I choose the best custody lawyer in Corona?

Attorneys that handle family law, divorce and custody cases in Corona have a wide variety of backgrounds, experience, and methodology to successfully handling cases. It is important to understand that there are many excellent attorneys that handle these types of cases, but certain attorneys may or may not jive with your personality and goals. For example, if you want to pursue a child custody case aggressively just because you want to “get back” at the other parent, our office is not a good fit for you. While we often act aggressively in custody disputes, there is always a purpose to what we do. We often counsel people to interview a number of attorneys and choose the right one for your case.

Corona Child Custody Lawyer – Free Consultations!

Our family law attorneys at Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, LLP have decades of combined experience handling complex child custody issues. With multiple offices across Southern California, our skilled team is ready, equipped and prepared to sit down with you for a free consultation and honestly asses your case and possible courses of actions. Don’t hesitate to contact our Corona office for a free consultation, today; you will speak with a real attorney from the first phone call. Call us in Corona, CA today for a free consultation! (951) 444-5530