Probably by far the most volatile area of family law--child custody disputes-- can wreck havoc on a family. Studies have shown that high conflict around child custody can negatively impact children. If the parents are fighting over children, the children invariably know it. They feel badly enough that their family has separated. They have a difficult time going back and forth between their parent’s homes. Then, to have to witness their parents, whom they love, fight over them is a very traumatic experience. And costs--legal fees, experts, court appearances, etc. -- can skyrocket when there is conflict over child custody.
A parent who believes he or she is more fit to care for the children of a marriage or domestic partnership is basically saying to the other parent, “you are not as fit as I am to care for our children. Thus, I should have custody of them.” Many times this is true. It still must be proven however at great cost—emotionally and financially. My advice is to try and settle child custody disputes whenever possible.
The policy of the State of California is that child custody is based on what is in the best interest of the children. The overriding policy is that both parents should have frequent and continuing contact with their children so long as that is in the children’s best interest. It is very difficult for one parent to keep the other parent from obtaining joint custody, unless that other parent has harmed the children in some way, or is completely irresponsible, or has some other tendency or “fault” that make frequent and continuing contact with that parent not in the child’s best interests.
There are two kinds of custody--physical and legal custody. Joint physical custody means the parents will have frequent and continuing contact with their children, generally exchanging the children at least one or more times per week. Sole physical custody means one parent has the majority of the custodial time with the children. Joint legal custody means that the parents have the joint right to make decisions pertaining to the legal issues affecting their children, choosing (as examples) their doctors, schools, and the religion in which the children are raised.
Obtaining joint custody is important. The reasons for obtaining joint custody are far too numerous and at times complicated to explain in this piece. But without joint custody, the parent who has sole custody (primarily sole physical custody) may more easily move to another location, whereas with joint physical custody, a parent seeking to move away would have a more difficult time doing so.
Move away cases are generally the most heart wrenching cases in the child custody arena. A seasoned and experienced family law attorney is a must when this and other custody issues arise.