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How Is Child Custody Actually Decided In California?


In California, child custody is decided in several different ways. The parents can come to an agreement and set up a custody schedule based on that agreement. If they can’t agree, then they can file a request for the order. In Sacramento County, they would be sent to family court services mediation. If the parties wanted to go to private party mediation, then they would do so with a privately paid, licensed mental health professional who has met the requirements for certification in Sacramento County.

Family court services mediation takes place at the Sacramento County courthouse. For the most part, all of the counties around Sacramento are very similar, but they do have their own courts. Mediation typically takes an hour to an hour and a half and is meant to assist parties in reaching an agreement. If the children are young, then they will have to be checked in with the daycare at the courthouse. If the children are teenagers, then they will be able to wait in the lobby. If the mediator deems it necessary to speak to the children, then the mediator will do so. Mediators don’t typically need to speak with the children unless an agreement is unable to be reached. The family court services mediator would then make a recommendation to the court, and pursuant to local rules in Sacramento County, the judge can order that recommendation as a temporary order.

In Placer County, the judge cannot read the mediator’s recommendation without the consent of the parties because it’s hearsay. In San Joaquin County, mediation occurs on the same day as the hearing, and the attorneys are allowed to attend that mediation. In Sacramento County, however, attorneys are not allowed to attend mediation. The court may or may not agree with the mediator’s recommendation, but if everyone agrees, then the custody order would be made. If one of the parties disagrees, then they would have the opportunity to set the matter for a bench trial, which would involve the rules of court, witnesses and the presentation of exhibits to the judge. Ultimately, the judge would decide what the custody arrangement would be.

In the last decade, there has been a trend toward equal parenting time. This usually works well, unless one of the parents works out of town or works extensive hours. If either parent isn’t able to help the child move along in life by ensuring that they make it to school on time and maintain good grades, then an equal parenting plan might not be the best option. These are some of the factors that determine custody.

Is There An Age Where A Child Is Able To Decide Which Parent They Want To Live With In California?

The code does not specify the age at which a child can choose the parent they want to live with. Obviously, a child who is almost 18 is going to live wherever they want, because it’s hard to force someone who is almost an adult. At age 17, a child can be emancipated and live on their own, so if they don’t want to live with either parent, they can actually file a petition to be emancipated. As any parent knows, once children are in high school, it’s much more difficult to adhere to a parenting plan whereby they spend a couple of nights with one parent and a couple of nights with the other. This is simply because of the logistics of clothing, school books, etc. Oftentimes, the children will have a voice based on those logistics or the after school activities with which they’re involved.

For more information on Deciding Child Custody In California, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (916) 915-8866 today.

California Probate Lawyer Peter Cianchetta

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