Irvine Child Custody Attorney

Determining custody schedules and parenting responsibilities can be among the most sensitive issues you will face. Matters that need to be resolved with the help of an Irvine child custody attorney often include:

  • What the custodial schedule will be;
  • Who will make decisions regarding the health, safety, and education for the children;
  • What the children can or cannot do while in either parent’s care.

Our child custody attorneys work in partnership with clients to negotiate workable parenting plans, encouraging them to arrive at agreements outside of court. In addition to reducing costs, this oftentimes results in better resolutions than having a court make these crucial decisions.

When, however, these important issues cannot be solved through negotiation, clients can be confident that we will provide formidable representation in court. The firm’s experienced litigators represent clients in high-conflict custody cases and matters involving complex legal areas such as Interstate/International jurisdictional issues and relocation cases.

Whether or not a client’s situation presents such complex legal questions, Seastrom Tuttle & Murphy treats the custody aspects of the matter as paramount. Contact our firm to speak with a top Orange County child custody attorney today.

3 Key Aspects of Child Custody in California

If you are a parent and you are preparing to end your marriage or non-marital relationship, it is critical that you make informed decisions based on the advice of an experienced Orange County child custody attorney. We carefully guide our clients through the process of making informed decisions about child custody, and we help our clients achieve favorable resolutions that reflect their wants and needs while also serving their children’s best interests.

1. Legal vs. Physical Custody Explained by an Irvine Child Custody Attorney

When dealing with child custody matters, it is important to distinguish between the concepts of “legal” and “physical” custody. As explained by the California Courts, legal custody refers to the right to “make important decisions for your children (like health care, education, and welfare),” while physical custody refers to the right to live with your children.

Legal custody and physical custody can both be shared by the child’s parents (referred to as “joint” custody) or granted to one parent exclusively (referred to as “sole” custody). However, sole custody arrangements are relatively rare in California, as the legislature and the courts have determined that it is in a child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with both parents with only limited exceptions. In any case, parents’ legal and physical custody rights do not have to correspond. For example, it is entirely possible (and fairly common) for the parents to share equal legal custody rights while one serves as their children’s primary physical custodian.

2. California’s “Best Interests” Factors for Child Custody Determinations

With regard to determining what is in a child’s “best interests,” the California Courts (and divorcing and separating parents) are required to examine the list of factors set forth in Section 3011 of the California Family Code. Section 3011 states that, “[i]n making a determination of the best interests of the child in a [divorce or separation], the court shall, among any other factors it finds relevant . . . consider,” each of the following factors:

  • The health, safety, and welfare of the child;
  • Any history of abuse by either parent;
  • The nature and amount of contact the child maintains with each parent; and,
  • Any evidence of drug abuse or dependence by either parent.

As you can see, these factors are fairly open-ended, and they leave a significant amount of room for parents to disagree over what type of arrangement will serve their children’s best interests after their separation or divorce. Even so, with the guidance of an experienced Orange County child custody attorney, divorcing and separating parents will often be able to come to terms without the need to ask a judge to make a decision for them. At our family law firm,  we work closely with our clients to understand their personal circumstances and family dynamics so that we can use the “best interests” factors to seek the custody rights they desire.

3. The “Parenting Plan”

When negotiating the terms of custody during a divorce or separation in Orange County, parents will work to create what is known as a “parenting plan.” The parenting plan establishes each parent’s legal and physical custody rights and the terms of visitation (or “time-sharing”) for any time the children will spend with a non-custodial parent.

Subject to the “best interests” factors discussed above, divorcing and separating parents have a significant degree of flexibility when it comes to establishing the terms of their parenting plan. However, there are numerous issues that must be considered, and it is extremely important to thoroughly address all pertinent issues in order to avoid confusion (and the potential for contentious disputes) down the line. Examples of the types of issues typically addressed in parenting plans include:

  • The parents’ default custody and visitation schedule
  • Special custody and visitation provisions for birthdays, holidays, and spring and summer vacations
  • Transportation between the parents’ homes and transportation to school and extracurricular activities
  • Attendance at the children’s games, recitals, matches, and other events
  • Decision-making authority with regard to things like education, extracurricular activities, and health care
  • Cell phone and screen time
  • Visits with friends, driving privileges, and curfews
  • Communication between the parents
  • Communication between the child and the parent who does not have custody or visitation
  • Dealing with medical emergencies

While some parents will prefer a more-traditional parenting plan that provides for their children to live primarily with one parent and visit the other parent on a regular schedule (i.e. every other weekend), there are various alternatives to this approach. For example, it is becoming increasingly common for children to split time with their parents equally. This can work well when the parents live close together, although it presents obvious logistical challenges if the parents live far apart or in different school zones.

Co-parenting has become more popular in recent years as well. In a co-parenting arrangement, the parents continue to jointly participate in their children’s lives after their separation or divorce. While this approach won’t be feasible (or desirable) for everyone, under the right circumstances it can provide a positive outcome for all parties involved.

We Can Help You Preserve Your Relationship with Your Children

Regardless of the circumstances involved in your divorce or separation, our attorneys can help ensure that you are able to continue to play an active role in your children’s lives, and we can help you secure the physical custody rights you desire. If custody has already been determined, we can also assist when circumstances for custody modification occur. For more information, schedule a confidential initial consultation with an Orange County child custody attorney today.

Frequently-Asked Questions for Irvine Child Custody Lawyers

Are mothers favored in child custody matters in California?

No, although the mother was once traditionally viewed as the primary caretaker of a couple’s children and was therefore considered to be the best choice for serving as the children’s primary custodian after a divorce or separation, this is no longer the case. In California, both parents start child custody matters on equal footing, and custody determinations focus on serving the children’s best interests based upon the specific circumstances involved.

How are child custody matters different for same-sex couples?

Fundamentally, child custody matters are no different for same-sex couples in California. Both parents have the same opportunity to secure custody, and all decisions need to be guided by the best interests of the children involved. However, in some circumstances, it may be necessary to resolve parentage issues before custody rights can be established.

Can my spouse (or partner) and I agree to a parenting plan without going to court?

Yes, as long as your agreement reflects the best interests of your children. An Irvine child custody attorney at Seastrom Tuttle & Murphy can work with you to develop a mutually-agreeable parenting plan that complies with California law.

What if my spouse (or partner) and I can’t agree on a child custody arrangement?

If you and your spouse or partner cannot come to terms about the custody of your children, you have a few options available. One of these options is to pursue mediation. Mediation often proves effective for resolving child custody matters—particularly when both parties desire to resolve their differences out of court.

Negotiation outside of mediation is also a useful tool for developing agreed parenting plans as well, and, when necessary, parents can take their child custody disputes to court. Our attorneys can help you develop a strategy to seek your desired custody rights as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

How an Irvine Child Custody Attorney Helps Resolve Your Issues

When working to establish child custody rights during a divorce or separation, it is important to rely on experienced legal counsel’s advice. At Seastrom Tuttle & Murphy, our Irvine child custody attorney assists parents with child custody matters by:

  • Developing effective strategies for securing desired rights consistent with California’s “best interests of the child” standard;
  • Working with parents to demonstrate that their desired custody rights reflect their children’s best interests, and gathering evidence and working with outside professionals as necessary;
  • Crafting parenting plans that address all pertinent legal and practical issues, and drafting clear terms that minimize the likelihood of facing confrontations post-separation or post-divorce;
  • Helping parents make informed decisions during negotiations and in mediation, and advising them of when it is in their best interests to consider litigation; and,
  • Ensuring that parents fully understand the terms of their custody arrangements and advising parents regarding their post-divorce or post-separation legal rights and obligations.   

Understanding California’ Child Custody Process and How Your Lawyer Will Help

Your Irvine child custody attorney will be a key asset when navigating this often emotional and difficult terrain. Here are five steps you can expect to move through as you work together to obtain child custody.

Prepare Your Case

Determining whether you’re seeking sole or joint physical and legal custody of your child is an important first step. The main difference between the two will be your ability to make decisions on behalf of your child without having to consult your former spouse or co-parent. At this stage, it’s also recommended that you carve out an ideal visitation schedule and child support arrangement so you understand exactly what it is you want to ask for as part of this process.

File Your California Child Custody Petition

You will work with your Irvine child custody attorney to open a family law case within your county’s superior court, which will generally be initiated either as a divorce or a petition for custody depending on whether you and your co-parent were ever formally married. Within this filing, you will file a request for a custody order, at which point the opposing party must file their response to your petition.

Attend Court-Ordered Mediation

California requires parents to attend a court-ordered mediation and attempt to settle their child custody arrangements alone and without the intervention of the court. Meeting with a court-appointed mediator and without their attorneys present, the goal of this mediation is to develop a detailed parenting plan they both agree on. If they can’t reach a unanimous agreement, then the child custody process will continue.

Attend a Hearing with a Judge

Bringing your Irvine child custody attorney back into the process, you will now attend a hearing where a judge will likely give temporary custody to one parent, and possibly recommend that a mental health professional assess both you, your co-parent, and your children to evaluate what the best possible outcome might be in this case. 

Attend Conferences and Trials with Your Irvine Child Custody Attorney

Conferences are meetings with the assigned judge in your case, where you will essentially come together with your co-parent, your attorneys, and the judges to work out the specific terms of your parenting plan. If these conferences do not result in solutions, then a trial will be a necessary next step. Most judges (and parents) in California will do whatever it takes to avoid going to trial, as it can take a terrible emotional toll on your family. 

Speak with an Irvine Child Custody Attorney in Confidence

If you would like to speak with an Irvine child custody attorney at our matrimonial law offices in Orange County, please call 949-474-0800 or request an initial consultation online. We will arrange for you to speak with one of our attorneys in confidence as soon as possible.