The custody and visitation of children is among the most important considerations a divorcing parent can face. At or near the time of divorce, animosity runs higher than normal between parents. Studies have shown that such animosity can have a detrimental impact on children of divorce. It is therefore in both parents’ best interests to take co-parenting classes and to work together on a mutually agreeable custody and visitation arrangement.

By doing so, the parents will set a proper example for their children and will eliminate the possibility of the children being forced to “choose” one parent over another. If the parents cannot work out a mutually agreed parenting plan, or if there are serious issues involving substance abuse, domestic violence, interstate or even international custody, the assistance of counsel and the court may not only be recommended but necessary in order to protect the rights of the children. Courts have the authority to order the appointment of independent counsel for the children and for a custody evaluation performed by a trained evaluator. Because these procedures are expensive and time consuming, it is always in the best interests of each parent and the children to explore and exhaust settlement options before engaging in custody litigation. It is precisely because custody litigation can be damaging to children that courts require mediation before any hearing on custody or visitation can proceed. In most cases, courts will order joint legal and physical custody.

Joint legal custody means that both parents can have input on decisions affecting the child, such as school and medical needs. Joint physical custody means that both parents share physical custody of the children. Although many parents share equal or 50-50 custody, joint physical custody does not have to be 50-50 and can be any combination of timeshare that accommodates the parents and serves the needs of the children to maintain frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Sole legal or physical custody is normally reserved for cases where domestic violence or geographical distances make joint decision making impractical or unwarranted.

The vast majority of cases result in a joint legal and physical custody order with a timeshare percentage at or between 50-50 (alternating weeks) and 80-20 (alternating weekends) with most major holidays and school vacation time split on an alternating basis each year. If you are having difficulty working out a parenting plan or have been served with a custody request, time is of the essence, so please contact us for a free initial consultation.

Child and Spousal Support in California are normally governed by uniform computer guidelines at the outset of a case. Among the factors to consider are each party’s income and, if there are children, the percentage of time each parent spends with them. If a parent or spouse is hiding income, a forensic accountant may be needed to determine gross income for support purposes.

If a parent or spouse is not working or is earning income at a level below his or her earning capacity, a vocational expert may be needed to determine earning capacity for support purposes. Once the assets and debts are divided, the computer guidelines are still used for child support but no longer apply to spousal support. Instead, the court will look at a number of factors, including the duration of the marriage, the age and health of the parties, the assets of the parties, the income and earning capacity of the parties, and the marital standard of living. For short marriages lasting 10 years or less, spousal support often lasts half the length of the marriage, beginning at the date of separation.

The date of separation is the date on which one or both parties evidenced a complete and final break in the marital relationship. This may be the date one party moved out of the residence, the date a party filed a petition for dissolution or a later date if reconciliation efforts were ongoing. Marriages lasting 10 years or more are considered marriages of long duration in California. In such cases, the court has the ability, but not always the inclination, to order spousal support until the supported party dies or remarries. So long as a person is physically willing and able to work, he or she is under a duty to become self-supporting within a reasonable time. If you need support or are being asked to pay support, time is of the essence, so please contact us for a free initial consultation.