Working out a parenting agreement that covers child custody and visitation can be difficult, especially when there is animosity between parents. Whether you're recently separated and looking to learn the basics of types of custody or you've had an open case for years that needs modifications due to life changes, you can find resources here. FindLaw's Child Custody and Visitation directory contains information about many local San Francisco, California attorneys who can help you through your child custody and visitation case.
What Is Child Custody?
Child custody refers to a situation in which a parent (or parents in cases where there is joint legal or physical custody) is charged with the responsibility of raising and protecting their child. During bitter divorce or separation proceedings, or in cases where abuse is alleged to have occurred (either against the child or against a spouse, or both), custody hearings may be brought to court.
What Is Visitation?
Visitation refers to the schedule set out (either mutually by the parents, or by the order of the court) by which the noncustodial parent may be able to see their child. In some cases, there may be zero visitation allowable at the discretion of the custodial parent or the courts, typically in cases of abuse.
Visitation can be supervised or unsupervised, depending on the context of the visitation agreement and schedule, as well as the relationship shared between the custodial parent and the noncustodial parent. Supervised visitation is strictly monitored from a legal perspective, and any violations of agreed-upon or mandated supervision may result in the loss of visitation.
Sometimes issues arise where a parent keeps a child when it's not his or her turn to care for the child. Occasionally, a parent claims a child on their taxes after it had already been established that the other parent would claim the child. When these problems arise, it's never the solution to stop paying child support; that will only hurt you in the end. Instead, you should find a San Francisco, California child custody and visitation lawyer to help modify the agreement.
Custody can be determined by the parents themselves in non-aggressive or non-acrimonious divorces or separations free of abuse or other aggravating factors, or by the courts themselves in cases where neither parent can mutually agree to terms beforehand.
If a custody case proceeds to court, the judge will consider things such as the child's welfare and best interests. The judge will look at the health and habits of both parents, their ability and history of being a primary caregiver, their living arrangements (new romantic partners, suitable quarters for a child, environmental concerns), and so on. The wishes of the child may also be given some weight, depending on the age of the child and the circumstances surrounding the case in question.
How to Change Custody and Visitation Terms
Custody and visitation terms are easy enough to change in amenable arrangements where both parents are on speaking terms and fine with moving the schedule around. Some paperwork may be involved via each parent's respective attorneys if there is a formalized schedule that needs to be updated.
In more contentious cases, custody and visitation terms may be changed by court order, generally requiring a hearing from both parties. The reasoning behind any potential custody or visitation change (a change in job hours, ability to take care of a child, living environment, allegations of abuse or similar) may be considered, and the opposing party will have the opportunity to defend themselves against any such claims as well as to reiterate their own stance.
Many people who need to find a lawyer in California have never hired a lawyer before. Talking to a lawyer may be a new experience and you might want some help getting started. Here are some questions you may want to ask a lawyer before deciding who to hire.
What is your main practice area?
How many years of experience do you have in California with cases like mine?
How often do you take cases to trial or settle them out of court?
Can I take my case through mediation or arbitration?
Do you offer a free consultation?
What are your fees and costs?
Will you be the attorney primarily handling my case?
How will I be kept up-to-date about my case?
In order to practice law in California, attorneys have to both pass the California bar exam and be admitted by the State Bar of California. Most attorneys in California graduate from an accredited law school but some lawyers are admitted through on-the-job experience for a minimum of 4 years and through passing an additional legal exam. After a lawyer is admitted to law practice in California, they can practice in almost any area of law.
Lawyers in California are held to strict ethical guidelines known as the Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorneys may have duties and limitations in:
Duty of client advocacy
Conflicts of interest
Duty of candor
Limitations in soliciting clients
Restrictions on handling a client's money
Many people avoid calling a lawyer because they are worried it will be too expensive. In many cases, a lawyer can end up saving the client money. This includes getting an increased award, recovering additional damages, avoiding financial problems in the future, and avoiding future disputes and litigation. Some legal areas even allow the lawyer to recover legal fees from the party at fault.