Experienced Child Custody Lawyers
Handling child custody and child visitation disputes requires a number of different and distinct lawyering skills. To be effective in child custody matters, a lawyer must be both proficient in trial skills and knowledgeable about the details of the law. A lawyer must be intimately familiar with the statutes and case law related to child custody, child visitation, and move away matters. It is critical that a lawyer stay current and updated on the law in that it changes frequently and often without advanced notice. Changes may be significant or minor but any change may impact the outcome dramatically. A lawyer must also be conversant with many issues regarding 730 child custody evaluations and the psychological testing that is utilized in the child custody evaluation process.
A lawyer must be acutely aware of the way the judges in the Orange County Superior Court view custody issues. Judges are people and different people have different philosophies about child custody, move away issues, 730 evaluations, parenting, etc. The various branches of the Superior Court in the State of California are not uniform in the area of custody litigation. There are important and distinct differences between the counties that relate to how child custody and child visitation matters are processed and determined. It is critical for an attorney to understand the differences.
Minyard Morris believes that it is in a client’s best interests to be represented by an attorney whose practice is located in the county where the child custody case was filed. Minyard Morris lawyers will not accept child custody cases that are filed in a county other than Orange County.
A lawyer must also be experienced and proficient in litigation skills. It is essential for the lawyer to be intimately familiar with the rules of evidence, burdens of proof, and privileges that relate to child custody litigation in order to avoid potential disastrous results in trial. A child custody trial is a trial not a meeting or conversation with a judge. If a lawyer is not skilled in the area of evidence, he/she may be unable to present important facts of the child custody case to the court. In other words, the court may not ever hear the story that a client thinks needs to be told. The court will not have the opportunity to make an informed order regarding child custody if it does not hear all of the facts.
It is a significant advantage for our clients that we collaborate frequently as a team on unique child custody and visitation matters. Our firm has more than 200 combined years of legal experience that we leverage for the benefit of our clients. Without question, it would be rare, for a team of experienced lawyers who limit their practice to Orange County family law matters not to create a better approach and strategic plan for a child custody negotiation or trial than a one man band or its equivalent.
A client should expect his/her lawyer to be beyond candid and tell him/her the strengths and weaknesses of the case and probable outcome at the first attorney-client meeting and at every step during the process as facts unfold so that a client has the opportunity to make informed and timely decisions about his/her case and his/her children. We are known for telling our clients the good, bad, and ugly about child custody matters - early and often.
Legal Child Custody
Legal custody determines which parent has the right and responsibility to make decisions regarding a child’s health, education and welfare. Parties are generally awarded joint legal custody.
Physical Child Custody
Physical custody determines where a child physically resides and the parenting time of each parent. It determines which parent has supervision rights relative to the child. The parties may be awarded joint physical custody or physical custody may be awarded to just one party. Joint custody does not necessarily mean equal time sharing. A 70/30 time share could be labelled joint child custody. The parties may be awarded joint physical custody with one parent being designated as the primary caretaker or one residence as the primary residence of the child.
Courts rarely split child custody between the parents, awarding each parent at least one of the children of the marriage.
Court Mandated Mediation
Before any contested child custody matter may be addressed in court, the parties must attend court mandated mediation. The mediation is confidential and the results of the mediation are not reported to the judge until an agreement is reached in Orange County.
Child Custody Agreements
The parties may agree to resolve their differences relative to child custody and child visitation matters. If they reach an agreement, they are not required to attend court mandated mediation. The courts will sign a child custody stipulated order and do not question the parents decision relative to these matters unless there are extraordinary unique circumstances.
730 Child Custody Evaluations
In some cases, the court may order the parties to participate in a 730 child custody evaluation which is performed by a mental health professional who makes recommendations to the court relative to child custody and related matters.
Child Custody Experts
The court may order a ‘child custody investigation’ or appoint an attorney to represent a child (minor's counsel) that is the subject of a child custody dispute. The court may also order parties to participate in therapy relative to child custody for a limited period of time.
RFO (Request For Orders) for Child Custody Orders
If the parties do not reach an agreement relative child custody, temporary orders may be made by a court if either party files an RFO with the court asking for relief.
Parenting Plans/Time Share for Child Custody
The parties may agree to a parenting plan or the court will make orders relative to a parenting plan if requested.
Best Interest Test for Child Custody Determination
If the court is asked to make orders relative to child custody, it will make the determination based on what it determines is the best interests of the child unless the hearing is the modification of a "final" order and in that case, the test is "substantial change of circumstances."
Documented Domestic Violence
Documented domestic violence may have a significant impact on a court's determination of a child custody award.
Factors That May Influence Child Custody Orders
The court looks at many different factors relative to making its child custody orders including the factors set for the below and may others:
- Age and maturity of child;
- Child’s preference;
- Health, education, and welfare of the child;
- Relocation of child’s residence;
- Mental/emotional disorders of a parent or child;
- Special needs of the child;
- Cooperation or lack of cooperation between the parents;
- Work schedules of the parents;
- Parenting skills;
- Relationship between the child and each parent;
- Educational needs of the child;
- Cultural factors;
- Criminal activity;
- Parental support systems; and
- Parent’s willingness to promote continuous and frequent contact with the other parent;
- Drug use.
Move Away / Relocation
If one parent makes the decision to relocate the child’s residence, the child custody order, will necessary have to be modified in one way or another. A party will, of course, be able to relocate their own residence. The question will be whether that parent will be allowed to change the residence of the child. When a court makes the determination as to whether a parent may relocate a child’s residence, the court must assume that the parent will, in fact, move regardless of whether that parent is allowed to relocate the child’s residence. The court cannot make an order that provides for one custody order if the parent moves and a different custody order if the parent does not move.
The moving parent does not need to prove that the move is necessary. The parent opposing the move must show that the move would be detrimental to the child. If that fact is proven by the non-moving parent, then the court must evaluate all of the relevant factors to determine whether a relocation is in a child’s best interests or whether a change of custody to the non-moving parent is in the child’s best interests. In other words, the court must make a determination as to which parent the child shall live with after the anticipated move.
The court will look to a number of factors in making the determination relative to the move away including, but not limited to the following: extent of shared custody, willingness to place the children’s best interests first, reasons for the move, relationship of the child with each parent, distance of the move, age of the child, ability of the parents to cooperate and communicate, stability and continuity, relationship of the parents, and the child’s wishes.
Where parents have a working shared custody arrangement, the court must conduct a de novo hearing to determine whether a relocation of the child’s residence is the child’s best interests. If a child custody order had not been made or if the child custody order is not a ‘final’ order, the court will use the ‘best interests of the child’ test in making the decision on the relocation.