Age-Appropriate Parenting Plans

Age-Appropriate Parenting Plans

For divorcing couples with children, perhaps the most important thing to address is a parenting plan. Property and money issues are usually more straightforward because they are assigned a value and appropriated according to legal standards. Deciding what is in the best interest of a couple’s children, however, is never easy.

A parenting plan must be established and approved by the court for the good of both the parents and the children. For the parents, it will define the respective roles to be played in the many and varied important issues involved in raising children. For the children, the plan will be critical to help them adjust to the effects of their parents divorcing. If handled poorly, that outcome can affect children for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a parenting plan is the age of each child. Infants, for example, need a consistent schedule for sleeping and eating. They also need physical comfort and bonding with the mother, particularly if being breast-fed. The non-custodial parent should visit on a regular schedule to also promote bonding.

Toddlers also need consistency in their environment, but the environment can be more flexible. Regular time with the non-custodial parent in their home is appropriate at this age, but the rules of each household should be the same for the child. If one parent has the primary parenting role, visits to the other parent should limited to 24 hours at a time. If shared custody is the plan, the time split should be limited to three days at a time.

Children at the pre-school age can adapt to longer periods away from a primary parent, again, with consistent rules in both households. Children at this age begin to need to know in advance when a change in location or caregiver is to occur. A sense of security is important at all points in a child’s developmental years, and at this age range, unexpected change can induce insecurity.

During the childhood years of 6 to 10 years of age, children begin to participate in a world outside the home and control of their parents. This can also cause insecurity, so it is ever more necessary for the parenting plan to provide a safe and secure home environment. Clear plans for time spent with each parent are important, as is the involvement of both parents in school and outside activities. Children need to feel supported by both parents in their school and other activities. This adds to their feelings of security and self-worth.

In pre-adolescence, children’s relationships with people outside the home increase and their time spent with parents starts to decrease. A child will begin to want variations in the parenting arrangement to accommodate his or her outside interests. It is fine for the child to have some say in when and where she will spend time, but it is important to demonstrate that the decision is still made by the parents, preferably together. Parents may need to sacrifice some of their time for the child to participate in outside activities.

The adolescent stage is when the parenting plan begins its descent, so to speak. Kids in this period are becoming more independent as they head for adulthood. They are increasingly in control of their schedules for school, sports, and other extra-curricular activities. Parents need to work together to allow this to occur while maintaining control. Children may try to play their parents off on one another to achieve a goal neither parent would otherwise approve. It is more important than ever for divorced parents to work together supervising adolescent children. At this age, ill-conceived actions by an unsupervised child can have dire consequences.

Obviously, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all parenting plan. The plan must be both rigid and flexible, depending on the needs of the children and the parents. The observations contained herein, however, can provide some insight as to a broad framework within which a plan can be refined.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law matters, including complicated parenting plans. We can advise you about the many different issues that can impact the parenting of children after divorce. Contact us today to learn how our attorneys can help you in your case: (415) 293-8314.

Will a California Judge Listen to My Child’s Preferences About Custody?

Will a California Judge Listen to My Child’s Preferences About Custody?

If you have ever wondered whether a judge will listen to your child’s preferences about custody or visitation, you are not alone. There is a short answer: Yes, under certain circumstances. However, there is much more to the story, and there are common misconceptions about the effect of the child’s preferences.

To understand the longer answer, you have to start with California law. In 2012, the California State Legislature enacted a law to give children more of a voice in custody and visitation matters. The law applies when a child is mature enough by “age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference” about custody or visitation.

The law has a specific provision when the child at least 14 years old, specifically with regard to how the child’s preferences are obtained and presented to the court. For these older children, the court “shall consider, and give due weight to” the child’s wishes unless doing so “is not in the child’s best interest.”

For kids less than 14 years of age, the court may permit the child to express his or her wishes if it is “appropriate pursuant to the child’s best interests.”

Any time a court does not allow a child to testify as a witness, the court must allow alternative means to obtain the child’s input. For example, the court may be informed of the child’s preferences through the child’s lawyer, an evaluator, or a mediator.

There is a common misconception that a court will necessarily do as the child asks.  This is not true. Even when the court does hear from the child, the court is not bound to follow the child’s preference. Rather, the court’s guiding principle is the best interest of the child. For this reason, the court can consider issues such as parent manipulation of the child and the child’s desire to avoid parental rules or discipline.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in child custody and visitation matters and can advise you in detail about how courts deal with these issues. Contact us today to learn how our attorneys can help you in your case: (415) 293-8314.

Supervised Custody Exchanges in California

Supervised Custody Exchanges in California
One of the most difficult aspects of divorce is its effect on children. It is particularly hard for children when their parents do not speak to each other or, worse yet, fight when they do. The public policy of the state of California is to support the best interest of the state’s children. One way this is done is by providing for supervised custody exchanges.

Supervised custody exchanges are designed to make it easier for parents to transfer the child between one another. A neutral third party supervises the exchange. In fact, the parents need not see each other at all.

By preventing the parents from interacting, supervised custody exchanges reduce the negative impact of divorce on California’s children. They also reduce the likelihood that children will be exposed to foul language, physical hostility between the parents, or discussions of adult issues.

Supervised custody exchanges are carried out at a neutral location. By way of example, the two parents would report to the same location, such as a school, but at different times. Each would wait in a separate room. Once everyone was there, the child and his or her belongings would be transferred from one parent to the other by way of the neutral third party. In this way, the parents would not need to encounter one another at all, even in the parking lot.

As with California’s supervised visitation program, the core of supervised custody exchanges is the safety of the child and other involved parties, followed by the best interest of the child. You can read more about supervised visitation at our earlier blog here.

An experienced California family lawyer will advocate for the custody and visitation plan that is best for your children. If you are involved in a difficult divorce or separation, contact the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. We have decades of experience in contested divorce and custody issues, and we will put our experience to work for you. Call (415) 259-6636 to get started today.

When Does a California Court Appoint a Child Guardian?

When Does a California Court Appoint a Child Guardian

Child guardianships are established in California in both probate and juvenile dependency court proceedings. Guardianships are used to give someone the legal authority to tend to a child or to his or her property. The nature of the authority depends on the reason the guardianship is established and the court order.

Probate Guardianship

The first type of guardianship is a probate guardianship. A probate guardianship is set up when a child’s parents are not able to care for him or her. Here are some examples of reasons parents may not be able to take care of their child:

  • Serious physical or mental illness;
  • Military duty;
  • Substance addiction or inpatient rehabilitation;
  • Incarceration;
  • A history of child abuse; and
  • Death.

Probate guardianships may be over the child, the child’s property, or both.

Guardianships over the child that are established through the probate process do not terminate parental rights; in fact, the child’s parents may even receive visitation rights in a probate guardianship. However, the guardian receives all of the rights and responsibilities of a parent, including full legal and physical custody. Please see my earlier blog here for a detailed description of legal and physical custody.

A probate guardianship may give the guardian rights and responsibilities relating to a child’s property, also known as the child’s “estate.” This type of guardianship is usually set up when a child owns or inherits significant assets before he or she is 18 years old. The guardian’s role is to manage the child’s estate responsibly, with a very high degree of care. If the child has a responsible, living parent, the parent is usually appointed in this role.

Guardians established through the probate court must submit annual status reports to the court, and court volunteers visit the guardian and child periodically. In addition, a probate guardian over a child’s estate is required to submit regular accountings to the court regarding the child’s property.

Juvenile Dependency Guardianship

Guardianship may also be established through the juvenile dependency court when a child has been removed from his or her home due to child abuse or neglect or other dangerous conditions. This type of guardianship is only used as a last resort, when a damaged parent-child relationship cannot be repaired. Guardianships established through juvenile dependency court terminate parental rights and usually last until the child turns 18.

California laws direct judges to make rulings consistent with the best interest of children. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law matters, including guardianships. Contact us today to learn how our attorneys can protect you and your children: (415) 293-8314.