Frequently Asked Questions About California Child Custody

At Kathleen K. Reeves & Associates, we have helped people throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties find answers to their child custody questions for more than 30 years.

While it is impossible to understand all the nuances of your situation without speaking individually with a lawyer, there are some common questions that people tend to raise with regard to their children's future after a divorce. This basic outline of the issues may be a useful first step in helping you think through your options.

How are decisions about child custody generally made in California?

The parental authority to make decisions about the most important aspects of a child's life is called "legal custody" in California. Barring instances of abuse, neglect or other serious issues between the divorcing spouses, the courts will usually lean toward some form of shared legal custody that allows both parents to make important child-rearing decisions together.

How does a parent obtain custody of a child?

In California, there is both legal custody (the authority to make important decisions regarding the child's upbringing) and physical custody (where the child actually lives). Most cases involve some form of shared physical and legal custody between the two parents.

Can fathers obtain sole custody?

In California, fathers can obtain sole custody of a child if that is the appropriate solution. The law does not favor the mother more than the father. As stated earlier, a parent seeking custody must be able to show that it is in the best interest of the child.

Does a child have any input in the custody decision?

Technically, yes. The courts will look at a child's age and maturity and whether he or she has strong opinions about which parent to live with. When appropriate, the court will consider a child's preference in regard to custody.

"While yes, the court will listen to a child's custody preferences if appropriate, I do not advocate for this approach. In fact, I will not meet the children and represent clients in this method. I think getting the kids involved in this way can be extremely damaging to their well-being. It is the parents' job to take care of their divorce and parenting issues."

∙ Kathleen K. Reeves, Attorney at Law

Can visitation rights be denied if a parent fails to pay child support?

No. Visitation rights are not contingent on the payment of child support. In other words, a parent who fails to pay child support still will have the opportunity to continue a relationship with his or her kids.

What is the difference between legal custody and physical custody?

Legal custody is the right of a parent to make critical decisions about the child's health, safety, education, care, medical treatment, and general welfare. Typically, when parents have "joint legal custody" they have to work together to make these decisions. Physical custody refers to the time that a parent has a child in his or her care. In some cases, parents share physical custody without one parent or the other parent having "primary" custody.

What happens if multiple children are involved?

There is a legal presumption that keeping siblings together is in each child's best interest. As a result, unless there is a very compelling reason, the court will not split up siblings.

What is the Family Court Services child custody mediation program?

Family Court Services (FCS) is the mandatory mediation required under California law before child custody and visitation hearings can take place in a court. The idea is to allow parents a chance to work out their own custody and visitation agreements. During the session, an FCS counselor will facilitate dialog and try to help the parties reach an agreement regarding custody and visitation. If an agreement cannot be reached by the end of the mediation, the counselor will write a written recommendation that is given to the judge for the hearing. For this reason, it is crucial to be prepared for FCS mediation.

At Kathleen K. Reeves & Associates, we work hard to prepare clients for these mediation sessions and represent their interests in the process. Unless there is a good reason (such as domestic violence or substance abuse issues) to take a different approach, these hearings are held face to face. When custody issues can be resolved in mediation, it is a tremendous cost and time saver, so we do what we can to make sure our clients are prepared to reach favorable resolutions.

Contact Kathleen K. Reeves & Associates

Schedule a consultation with an experienced family law attorney by calling 510-957-9658 or sending us an email.