What Is Joint Legal Custody?

What Is Joint Legal Custody?

Zach and Mary decide to divorce after 14 years of marriage. Of course, they are concerned about how their three children will handle the stress of divorce. Both parents want custody, but realize they need a plan. As they learn more about how custody is decided, they have questions. For example, they aren’t sure what joint legal custody entails.

Types of Child Custody

In a divorce proceeding, the term “child custody” refers to the care, control, and maintenance of a child or children. However, there are two different types of custody:  physical and legal. Each type of custody can be sole or joint. Sometimes a judge may even award one parent sole physical custody of a child, but joint legal custody. As always, the judge will decide what’s best for the child when finalizing child custody arrangements:

  • Sole Custody. A parent with sole physical custody decides where a child lives. If a parent is awarded sole legal custody, he or she will make all legal decisions related to a child’s health, education, and welfare. The non-custodial parent may have visitation rights as ordered by the court.
  • Joint Custody. Parents may share legal or physical custody under joint custody arrangements. Physical custody still relates to arrangements regarding the physical presence of the child. Legal custody still refers to the child’s health, education, and welfare. The difference, of course, is that each parent has at least some say in what happens with the child.

So, how does joint legal custody vary from sole legal custody and joint/sole physical custody?

Joint Legal Custody

Parents who are given joint legal custody generally are required to make decisions together. However, if a parent refuses to work with the other parent, they may both end up back in court. That’s not the ideal situation for anyone.

Sometimes Sharing is Impossible.

A judge may give one parent sole legal custody if:

  • parents are unable to work together
  • one person is considered an unfit parent
  • one of the parents is just not capable of making legal decisions
  • it appears that it’s not in the children’s best interests for both parents to share legal custody

Final Thoughts.

Zach and Mary found it difficult to agree on a parenting plan. Both wanted maximum time with their kids. Both wanted to make all decisions. The judge presiding over their case sent to them mediation, where they came up a parenting plan that worked for the children. They were able to see that joint custody could work as long as they continued to communicate and put their children first.

Acting in the best interest of the child is the driving principle behind a parent plan. Make sure custody issues are handled while negotiating your marital settlement agreement.

To discuss your child custody concerns with an experienced California attorney, please call us at 415-293-8314. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger assist clients in San Francisco, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.

My Husband Got Custody of Our Kids. Do I Have to Pay Child Support?

My Husband Got Custody of Our Kids. Do I Have to Pay Child Support?

Some of the most difficult and heart-wrenching decisions to make during a divorce involve children. Who will provide a home for the kids and money to care for them? Regardless of where the kids live, both parents are expected to be financially responsible for their children. This expectation may lead some people to question why they have to pay child support if the other parent has physical custody. 

California courts require every parent to be financially responsible for their children.

Child support is the law, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to calculate. Courts will consider several factors when calculating who should pay child support:

  • Both parents’ financial circumstances,
  • The children’s needs,
  • Whether additional support is needed for special expenses, child care costs, etc. and
  • The amount of time each parent has physical responsibility for the children.

Custody arrangement can make a difference.

“Time-share” – the amount of time the parent spends with the children – typically takes three forms:

  • One parent spends more time caring for children. The other parent usually pays child support. Occasionally, though, there’s a great discrepancy between the parents’ income. Generally, the parent with the greater income will pay child support to the parent with lower income. This scenario can be tricky. It is best to consult a family law attorney.
  • Parents spend about the same amount of time with the kids. The parent with the higher income may pay some child support to the other parent.
  • Parents of multiple children ‘split’ up the children. For example, in a family with two children, one child lives with mom and one child lives with dad. Child support may be paid depending on the parents’ income or special needs.

What’s best for the children?

It really comes down to taking care of the children’s needs, regardless of their address. Maybe you have questions about child support or are considering separate or divorce. Give us a call at (415) 293-8314 to schedule a confidential appointment with one of our attorneys.

Ms. Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. We assist clients in California’s Northern to Central Cost, including San Francisco, Marin County, Gold River, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.
Can I Move Out of State with My Child?

Can I Move Out of State with My Child?

Despite everyone’s best efforts, child custody issues arise. Even in cases where the court and parents have agreed on what’s in the best interests for the children, life changes. At some point after a divorce, one parent may want or need to move out of state.

What California law says about move aways.

According to California Family Code 7501:

(a) A parent entitled to the custody of a child has a right to change the residence of the child, subject to the power of the court to restrain a removal that would prejudice the rights or welfare of the child.

(b) It is the intent of the Legislature to affirm the decision in In re Marriage of Burgess (1996) 13 Cal.4th 25, and to declare that ruling to be the public policy and law of this state.

The decision in In re Marriage of Burgess grants a parent the presumptive right to move, not an absolute right. This means the court may or may not allow you to move. The court will consider factors in addition to your custody order before granting or denying your request to move away.

How much time do you usually spend with your child?

The court may consider how much time each parent spends with the child when deciding a move away case. The parent who has physical custody of a child more than the other parent may be more likely to win a move away case. Whether the time spent together is quality time may also influence the court’s decision.

Will the move be detrimental to your child?

Is the move being made for a legitimate reason that may benefit the child? Moving closer to extended family, living in a better neighborhood, and attending a better school are good reasons to move. Moving to be closer to your boyfriend or your favorite beach are not.

However, moving can be tough on a child’s relationship with his or her non-custodial parent, but courts often don’t consider that harmful enough to deny the motion to leave. However, if any of the child’s rights will be restricted due to the move, the court may refuse to allow the parent to move away.

Do you have a plan?

If you’re thinking of moving away, you need to plan ahead. It can be months before a judge grants or denies your request to move.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are highly experienced with child custody issues. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.
Handling Custody When a Child Has Three Parents

Handling Custody When a Child Has Three Parents

Parentage is not always easy to determine in a divorce. Custody issues may arise when a child’s biological parents separate, then reconcile. Sometimes a third party, not biologically related to the child, takes on the role of parent. When a child has three or more parents, how will courts make difficult, yet important, custody decisions?

When Biology Isn’t Enough.

One court case brought up an interesting situation involving two biological parents who were not married and one parent’s spouse. The case of In re M.C. involved a child whose mother conceived a child with her boyfriend, but married her girlfriend before the child was born. The mother’s wife began serving as parent of the baby. The biological father acknowledged the child and provided some financial support.

The mother separated from her spouse, and then was incarcerated. The child went into foster care. Courts trying to determine custody faced a dilemma. All three parents could be considered to be a parent to the child. However, the mother could not care for the child, and her wife had no biological link to the child. The biological father lived in another state and had little to no contact with the child. California law at that time forced judges to recognize only two parents for a child.

California Senate Bill No. 274 – The Third Parent Law.

After In re M.C., the California legislature proposed and passed a law authorizing a court to determine that a child may have more than two parents. Courts must look closely at parent-child bonds, instead of just the biology of the situation.

Sometimes denying custody to a person with a parent-child bond would harm the child. Court may now may recognize more than two parents. Although three-parent families are most often talked about, the law does not limit courts to determining a specific number of parents.

Custody, Visitation, and Support.

In any divorce proceeding involving children, the courts make determinations based on the best interests of the children. Three-parent family situations are no different.

Allocation of custody between parents, no matter how many, is based factors like the health, safety, and welfare of the child.

Custody and visitation arrangements between parents should focus on providing a stable environment for the children. A parent deemed unfit by the court may be excluded from joint legal or physical custody. Visitation may be limited or supervised for any of the multiple parents.

Learn More About Filing for Divorce.

It doesn’t matter why the child has three parents. What matters, what always matters in child custody issues, is that everything be done with the best interests of the child in mind.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce proceedings. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Marin County, Oakland, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.

Family Dispute Resolution: How It Is Used in Custody Disputes?

Family Dispute Resolution: How It Is Used in Custody Disputes?

Our children are near and dear to our hearts. When marriages break up, many of the most difficult issues pertain to a couple’s children. Most of the time, both parents want what is best for the kids. However, it can be difficult to come to an agreement about how to handle custody and visitation issues because parental judgment may differ. That’s where family dispute resolution comes into play.

In an ideal circumstance, parents have similar ideas about what is best for their kids in terms of where the kids should live, go to school, and so on. Sometimes, however, they do not. In an even worse circumstance, one or both parents does not have the child’s best interest at heart or is not healthy enough to have a proper perspective on what is best for the child.

It is in circumstances like these that family dispute resolution is used by the court system. When the parents cannot come to an agreement, the family dispute resolution program helps by conducting services such as child custody evaluations and mediations.

The goal is to help families craft their own agreement about child custody and visitation issues. Dispute resolution allows parents to play a critical part in creating their own agreement for the approval of a judge. When it is successful, dispute resolution can often help the parties avoid a hearing in front of a judge about controverted issues.

The law sets forth three goals when family dispute resolution is used for custody or visitation matters:

  • mitigating negative relationships between the parents;
  • developing an agreement that serves the child’s best interests in a way that, ideally, continues contact with both parents; and
  • resolving custody and visitation issues in the best interest of the child.

At the end of family dispute resolution, the mediator helps to draft the parties’ agreement.

If you have questions about custody or visitation issues, you should consult with an experienced California lawyer. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger will provide authoritative legal support tailored to your specific situation. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can help: (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.

Contesting Parentage in California

Contesting Parentage in California

It goes without saying that being a parent comes with both rights and responsibilities. Nowhere is this more evident than in legal proceedings that relate to families. In the realm of family law, a child’s parents have the right to request custody and visitation. However, they also have the responsibility of supporting the child, sometimes by paying child support, uninsured healthcare costs, and child care costs.

When a child is born, the mother’s name is listed on the birth certificate. If the mother is married at the time of birth, her husband is presumed to be the father, and his name is also placed on the birth certificate. Likewise, if the mother was married at the time the child was conceived, that man is presumed to be the father and is listed on the certificate.

If the mother is not married, determining who the father is can be more complicated. A very common way of establishing paternity is through a voluntary Declaration of Paternity completed by the parents. Outside of a presumption or voluntary declaration, court proceedings are often used to determine the child’s father. You can read more about paternity at our earlier blog here.

But what happens when a man disputes that he is the father of the child? Indeed, much is at stake for everyone involved — the mother, the putative father, the child, and the state of California.

The California Family Code reaffirms that the state has a compelling interest in establishing child paternity and that both parents have a duty to support their children. This makes sense because parentage affects many rights:

  • child support;
  • child custody and visitation;
  • health insurance;
  • military benefits, survivors’ benefits, and Social Security benefits; and
  • inheritance rights.

When a parent does not support a child, the child suffers. However, the child’s family and the state are also often negatively affected.

The state child support agency can request that a court establish the paternity of a child. Others who may start a paternity suit include the mother, the child’s personal representative, and, of course, the father. A man has the legal right to request a genetic test to determine whether he is the biological father of a child.

Under California Family Code § 7575, if a man who signed a voluntary declaration of paternity is determined by genetic testing not to be the father, the court may still refuse to set aside the declaration. The court’s decision in this regard is focused on the best interest of the child.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law matters, including challenges to paternity. 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.

What Does It Mean to Establish Paternity?

What Does It Mean to Establish Paternity
Most people know that establishing paternity relates to naming someone as a child’s legal parent. However, many people are less clear about why it is important to establish paternity, also known as parentage.

When a child’s mother is married at the time the child is conceived or born, the person to whom she is married is automatically presumed to be the other parent, unless the court finds otherwise based on evidence before it. This presumption also applies to certain couples in registered domestic partnerships, as well as to situations in which the second parent openly treated the child as his or her own.

However, if the mother is not married at the time the child is born, the child does not have a second legal parent. In these cases, California provides two simple ways to establish parentage: a formal declaration of paternity or a court order.

In either case, once someone is established as a child’s legal parent, he or she gains both rights and responsibilities relating to the child. Only after parentage is established may that parent exercise parental rights, such pursuing custody and visitation. Additionally, until parentage is established, a person cannot be held legally responsible to pay child support.

While custody, visitation, and child support are all important reasons to establish parentage, there are many others:

  • The child’s right to inherit from the parent;
  • The child’s right to certain benefits related to the parent, such as Social Security and veteran’s benefits;
  • The child’s ability to access family medical records and history;
  • The right to recover certain government-provided benefits on behalf of the child;
  • The presence of the person’s name as a parent on the child’s birth certificate; and
  • The child’s ability to recover as a health or life insurance beneficiary from the person.

In addition to these concrete benefits, California law recognizes that “knowing one’s father is important to a child’s development.”

Declaration of Paternity

The simplest way to establish parentage is through a declaration of paternity signed voluntarily by both parents. This is a state-created a form that has the same effect as a court order when it is filed with the California Department of Child Support Services. By law, birthing hospitals and prenatal clinics must provide a voluntary declaration of paternity to an unmarried mother. The declarations are also available for free “at all local child support agency offices, offices of local registrars of births and deaths, courts, and county welfare departments.”

A parent who signs a declaration of paternity waives several legal rights, such as the right to have a court decide the issue of paternity and the right to legal representation in paternity proceedings.

Court Order

A court order is the second way parentage may be established when a mother is unwed at conception or birth. Either parent may petition a court to establish parentage. For example, a mother may ask a court to enter an order establishing a biological father as her child’s legal father. After this is done, the mother can pursue child support from the father. Similarly, a biological father may ask a court to establish him as the father, after which he may pursue custody or visitation with the child.

Parentage is the basis for many rights and responsibilities under California law. If you are involved in a parentage dispute, you want an attorney with substantial experience in Northern California who will represent you aggressively. Please contact the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.

What Is a Child Custody Investigation?

What Is a Child Custody Investigation
A child custody investigation is designed to help the family court determine the custody arrangement that is in the “best interest of the child.” In acrimonious divorce or legal separation proceedings, the parties may be vying for custody of their children. It can be difficult for a judge, sitting in a courtroom, to balance the evidence and determine what is best for the children. Child custody investigations can help identify and frame the issues the judge needs to resolve.

Child custody investigations are required by law any time there is a “serious” allegation of child abuse. This includes situations in which any of the following people allege child abuse:

  • The child, made to a law enforcement officer;
  • A child welfare services agency investigator; or
  • Any person who is required by law to report suspected child abuse.

A child custody investigation may also be ordered any time an allegation of serious child abuse “is supported by substantial independent corroboration.” This means that an evaluation may be ordered any time an allegation of serious child abuse is backed up by substantial independent evidence that the abuse occurred.

A child custody evaluation may also be ordered whenever a judge needs information that bears on what may be in the best interest of the children, such as alleged parental substance abuse, extreme parenting practices, or major mental health issues. Sometimes, one party to a divorce or legal separation may make allegations against the other of these types of conduct. Other times, the judge may become concerned based on other evidence or testimony presented to him or her.

Child custody investigations generally conclude with a report from the investigator to the court. The law sets forth minimum requirements for investigations; however, family court judges have great discretion to order additional evaluation “when necessary to determine the safety needs of the child.”

To read more about what happens during a child custody investigation, please see our earlier blog here.

Child custody evaluations are often necessary to protect California children. In hotly contested child support matters, you need an attorney to fight for you and your child. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in divorce, child custody, and child support matters. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can protect you and your children: (415) 293-8314.