Sacramento Custody Lawyers
Child custody disputes are perhaps the most contentious and emotional aspects of a family law case. Establishing or modifying a custody, or “parenting plan,” that is in your child’s or children’s best interest is immensely important. Leaving the decision in the hands of a third party, including a mediator or judge, who may or may not fully understand the circumstances of your case, can be a gamble. Having a lawyer on your side who can make your case clear can make all the difference.
Legal and Physical Custody
The courts refer to two types of custody: (1) Legal Custody, and (2) Physical custody. Legal custody is the ability to make decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of your children. These can be decisions regarding religious activities, where your children attend school, who their doctors are, what kinds of medical care they should receive, and what kinds of activities they should be involved in. Physical custody refers to whom a child resides with.
Most commonly the court awards joint legal and physical custody. Joint legal custody means that both parents share in the decision-making. In the event parents are not able to agree, the court or a third party mediator may need to step in to help resolve the issue. Joint physical custody means that both parents have significant periods of physical custody. However, joint physical custody does not necessarily mean there is a 50/50 timeshare.
Less commonly, courts may award sole legal and/or physical custody. Sole legal custody means that parent may unilaterally make decisions relating to the children’s health, education and welfare. Sole physical custody means the children reside with one parent, subject to the court’s authority to order visitation to the other parent.
California law requires that parties undergo mediation in the event there is disagreement as to custody. There are two types of child custody mediation in California, which is often different from county to county: recommending and non-recommending mediation.
In “recommending” counties, parents meet with a mediator who attempts to resolve any issues and help the parties come to agreement. In the event there is no agreement, the mediator will make a recommendation to the court as to what they believe should be the parenting plan, or custody schedule. While the court is not required to adopt the mediator’s recommendations, they often do.
In “non-recommending” counties, a mediator will similarly attempt to resolve any issues and help the parties come to agreement. However, the mediator WILL NOT make a recommendation to the court if the parties do not agree.
Family Court Services (FCS) Mediation vs. Private Mediation
Mediation services are often provided for free through Family Court Services in your county. Family Court Services mediators have large caseloads and limited time to spend on your case. However, Family Court Services mediation can be effective for many parties who just need a professional to help them sort out their differences. If the issues are more complex, private mediation is available. Private mediators have the ability to spend more time on a case, and so are able to fully investigate the issues in your case to arrive at an agreement or recommendation that is better tailored to suit your children’s needs. However, private mediation is not free. Private mediators often charge by the hour, raising the total cost of litigation. In many cases, however, private mediation can be money well spent as the implications coming out of mediation can alter the lives of everyone involved.