Child Custody and Visitation

San Francisco Lawyers Representing Individuals Seeking a Divorce

At Lerner Poole, our divorce attorneys have several decades of combined experience representing people in San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area. We are knowledgeable in matters such as child custody and visitation, which can be fiercely contested and emotionally draining. As Certified Family Law specialists, we have a strong understanding of the complexities that can arise in these situations. Our San Francisco child custody lawyers can help you seek an amicable settlement through alternative dispute resolution when that is possible, or vigorously litigate your case before a judge if needed.

Determining Child Custody and Visitation

There are two types of child custody in California: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to which parent will make important decisions about a child's wellbeing, such as choosing his or her residence, health care provider, school, child care provider, and religion. Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with.

Both legal and physical custody can be joint or sole. Joint legal custody allows parents to share the rights and responsibilities of making important decisions about their children. Joint physical custody means that children live with both parents, although often it is too difficult to divide time in an exact 50/50 split, so children may live more with one parent than the other. If a parent has the children more than half the time, he or she may be considered the primary custodial parent. Sole custody usually means that the children live with one parent most of the time, but visit the other parent. In some cases, the court will award joint legal custody but not joint physical custody.

California courts focus on the best interests of the children when determining child custody and visitation. The best interests of the children may require a complex analysis of issues that are very emotional for all family members. Generally, the court tries to maintain the "status quo,” or the conditions that existed before the divorce.

For example, if one parent has been the breadwinner at a high-pressure job that leaves little time for family, and the other parent has been a stay-at-home parent, the court is more likely to create new arrangements that are as close to that situation as possible. Similarly, temporary custody orders can become the status quo and have a huge impact on permanent custody orders, which is one reason why it is important to retain legal representation early in divorce proceedings. Our child custody attorneys can help San Francisco residents navigate the process from start to finish.

However, courts do recognize that parents who have been less involved during the marriage may want to be more involved with the kids after a divorce. Additionally, the court will look at other factors, such as the children's ages and health, the emotional ties between each parent and each child, and a history of family violence or substance abuse.

The amount of time you will spend with your child is known as custodial timeshare. If you are not the primary custodial parent, it may be called visitation. Usually, visitation schedules are detailed, covering not only daily activities but also holidays and summer vacation. Custodial timeshare directly affects how much child support you must pay or may receive. Hours spent during visitation are part of the custodial timeshare calculation.

The court usually requires parents to meet in mediation to try to resolve child custody issues before the court issues a custody order. It is important to prepare for mediation with your attorney because its impact on court orders varies from county to county in California. If you cannot reach an agreement through mediation, the court will most likely proceed with a hearing.

In some cases, such as those involving allegations of mental health issues, substance abuse, or questionable parenting conduct that could negatively affect a child, or because one of the spouses requests it, the court may order a 730 evaluation for child custody on its own. This evaluation may also be ordered in cases of other serious disagreements, such as when a parent hopes to move out of state and the other parent objects. Additionally, a judge may appoint a lawyer for the children in a particularly difficult custody battle.

Consult a Dedicated Child Custody Lawyer in San Francisco

Children benefit when their parents are able to work out a mutually agreeable child custody and visitation agreement. However, we recognize that parents may not be able to reach an agreement on their own. The experienced family law lawyers at Lerner Poole are skilled in issues such as child custody, child support, and property division. We have assisted individuals throughout the Bay Area, including the Marin County communities of Novato and San Rafael. Contact our San Francisco child custody attorneys at 415-391-6000 or via our online form to schedule an initial consultation.