Regardless of what you may think of the other parent, studies show that children of divorce do much better when they have some contact with both parents. Like adopted children, children of divorce want to know where they came from and who their parents are. California has declared that it is public policy to ensure for minor children frequent and continuing contact with both parents after their separation or dissolution, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing, except when it would not be in the child’s best interest.
Unless you can show that it is not in the children’s best interest to have contact with the other parent, the court will order you to share your children. If you do not share your child with the other parent, the court could change custody to that parent.
Sharing custody does not necessarily mean that your child will spend an equal amount of time with each parent. If you and the other parent cannot agree on how you will share your child, you may file for a hearing to ask the judge to decide which parent will make decisions regarding child-raising, including your child’s health, education, and welfare (legal custody) and how much time your child will spend with each parent (physical custody).
Before the hearing, you and the other parent will probably meet with a counselor from Family Court Services (FCS). In some circumstances, you may meet with FCS separately from the other parent. The counselor will try to help you work out a parenting plan with the other parent. In the meeting, both parents should be looking out for what is in their child’s best interest, rather than blaming the other parent for what they did wrong.
If you and the other parent still cannot agree on child-sharing, in San Diego County, FCS counselors have made a recommendation regarding your children. This recommendation covers both legal and physical custody. When you go to your hearing, the judge should have a copy of the FCS recommendation. The judge will rely very heavily on this recommendation. The court often adopts the FCS recommendation exactly as it is written, and the recommendation becomes the court’s order.
You may find you and your family living with the recommendation for a very long time. It will probably have an effect on your life. Take FCS appointments seriously. What you say, how you say it, and your body language may well impact FCS’s recommendation and how a judge decides custody of your child. Do not go into an FCS appointment unprepared — you may regret it.
Anne B. Howard is a divorce attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist practicing in Carlsbad, California. She serves North County and San Diego Courts as well as the Hemet Family Court in Riverside County.
For more articles on child custody and divorce, visit www.divorcemag.com/articles/Child_Custody