Experienced Stockton Child Custody Law Firm for Help When You Need in Most
In a divorce involving children, custody is perhaps the most pervasive conflict that arises between the two parents — and justifiably so. Parent-child bonds are sensitive to social distance, and a reduction in time spent with one parent may have a permanent impact on that relationship. Thus, resolutions are difficult to come by without the help of a Stockton child custody law firm.
Though important — and broadly relevant to parents — California child custody laws are often misunderstood by the general public. Let’s take a closer look at some of the basics of your parental rights.
What is the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody in California?
People often confuse the concept of custody with “physical” custody — control over the child’s whereabouts. In California, child custody can be further broken down into “legal” custody and “physical” custody concepts.
Legal custody is the right of a parent to make long-term decisions regarding the care of their child, specifically with respect to education, health, safety, and general welfare, and even their religious upbringing.
By contrast, physical custody grants actual control over the presence of the child. Physical custody can be granted to one parent, while legal custody is granted to one or both. Custody need not be exclusive — in California, parents can be granted joint physical custody, joint legal custody, one, or even both. Of course, in some cases parental rights may be ended, as well.
Our Stockton Child Custody Law Firm Explains the Custody Determination Factors
California gives judges significant discretion with which to decide on the ideal custody arrangement, but judges are limited by a need to ensure that the “best interests” of the child are met at all times.
What constitutes “best interests”? 1) The health, safety, and welfare of the child must be furthered through the custody arrangement, and no result should be inconsistent with that; and 2) children generally benefit from maintaining continuing and meaningful contact with their legal parents.
Factors relevant to the “best interest” analysis include, but are not limited to the following:
- Maintaining continuity in the child’s environment;
- Whether a parent has physical and/or psychological limitations that could impact the health, safety, and welfare of the child;
- Whether a parent has the ability to provide financially for the child;
- Child preference;
- Emotional bonds between the child and each parent;
- The child’s relationship with other siblings;
- Whether a parent is known to have engaged in child or partner abuse;
- Whether a parent has a history of substance abuse;
- The prior criminal record of each parent (and its potential impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the child).
Our Stockton Child Custody Law Firm Explains the Weight of a Child’s Preference
When parents are unable to come to an agreement on child custody matters, the judge will decide for them. When making decisions about custody and visitation, the court will, when appropriate, consider the child’s preferences. While consulting with your Central Valley and Stockton child custody lawyers is the best way to understand your child’s potential role in determining custody in your particular case, the following may help answer your general questions about how a judge in California might consider the issue of child preference in contested custody matters.
At What Age is a Child’s Preference Taken Into Consideration in a California Child Custody Case?
There is no minimum age that a child must reach in order to have his or heard opinion heard in a child custody case. The judge will consider whether the child is of sufficient age and ability to express an intelligent opinion regarding where they will live and how visitation will be managed.
Will My Child Have to Testify in a Public Court Setting?
A judge will never force your child to testify in court if he or she doesn’t wish to do so. A child who is 14 years old or older, however, will be given the opportunity to testify in court if that is what they want. If younger than 14, the court will weigh whether or not testifying in court about custodial preference is appropriate, looking at factors such as the child’s maturity and ability to adequately express their thoughts.
If it is determined that the child should weigh in on custody matters but it is not in their best interest to testify in court, the court will come up with another way to make sure their opinion is heard and considered. Alternative methods courts employ include appointing someone — an evaluator, mediator, or guardian ad litem, for example — to speak with the child and then testify about the child’s preference on their behalf, or having the child testify in chambers without the parents present. If the child testifies in chambers, however, unless the parents agree that the judge can speak with the child alone, a court reporter and each side’s child custody attorney will be present.
Even when a child does testify in court, the judge will be sensitive to the situation and will protect them from embarrassment or harassment, if necessary, by limiting the questions that the custody attorneys are allowed to ask.
How Much Weight Will the Judge Give My Child’s Preferences?
The court has discretion in deciding how much weight to give the child’s custody and visitation preferences. Generally speaking, the opinion of an older child will carry more weight with the court, but a judge will always consider options through the lens of what is deemed to be in the best interests of the child, regardless of the child’s age.
Contact MCJG to Let Our Stockton Child Custody Law Firm Help You
Here at McKinley, Conger, Jolley & Galarneau, LLP, our team has decades of experience working with clients in Central Valley who find themselves involved in serious family law disputes, including those centering around a child custody determination.
We understand just how important custody is to the development of a healthy, happy, and sustainable parent-child relationship. For many parents, a child custody battle is the single most important legal dispute in their lifetime. The stakes are simply too high to resign oneself to the process without securing adequate help from a Stockton child custody law firm.
Let us help you preserve a reasonable family structure during this sensitive time. Call us at 209-477-8171 or complete an online intake form to schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced attorney at our Stockton child custody law firm. We serve clients throughout California and the Central Valley.