In California, the court will award sole or joint child custody to either one or both parents with the “best interests of the child” as the standard for any decision. Judges evaluating custody cases must consider the best interests of the children in reaching a conclusion about how parents will share time with the children. In determining a child’s best interests, California law focuses on the health, safety, and welfare of children, and the concept that children benefit from frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
California law also allows courts to consider the wishes of a child who is mature enough to make an intelligent choice regarding custody. Typically, for a child’s preference in custody to be heard, the parent who seeks custody files a formal request for order with the court. Under the Family Code, a child may be permitted to address the court, unless the judge rules that doing this would not be in the best interests of the child. If it happens that the court precludes the calling of any child as a witness, it will generally provide alternative means of obtaining input from the child and other information regarding the child’s preferences. The court may, for instance, request the services of a minor’s counsel, an evaluator, an investigator, or a mediator to provide recommendations regarding what would be in the best interests of the child.
California law requires parents who cannot come to an agreement on their own to attend mediation as a precondition to participating in a contested court hearing. During the court-ordered mediation process that comes with a litigated divorce proceeding, the spouses will meet with a mediator to try to resolve child custody and visitation issues. The mediator will facilitate an arrangement wherein the parents can develop their own parenting arrangements with respect to both legal and physical custody. If mediation fails and the divorcing parents do not on their own arrive at an agreed child custody and visitation plan, the court will make a temporary custody and visitation order that it deems would be in the child’s best interests. The temporary order will continue until the parents do reach an agreement, or until a judge makes a final decision at a trial.
In certain cases, the court may order a Child Custody Evaluation, also called a “730 Evaluation” to look into the mental health and parenting practices of one or both of the parents. Another option is for the court to appoint minor’s counsel which is a lawyer for the child. The child can tell the attorney or the custody evaluator about his/her own wishes and concerns.
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