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Do You Need a Lawyer for Child Custody in California?

Child Custody

Do You Need a Lawyer for Child Custody in California?

When you are in the middle of a divorce battle or need to settle child custody matters with your ex-spouse, you may wonder if there are any benefits of investing in an attorney – or if simply taking a do-it-yourself approach would be best. Our attorneys provide an overview of how child custody works in California and explain why representing yourself may not always yield the best results for your case.

How Does Child Custody Work in California?

In California, child custody decisions prioritize the best interests of the child. That means a court will decide which custody arrangement and parenting plan will benefit the child the most – and not necessarily what is most convenient for the parent. Parents can have joint (shared) or sole (single) legal and physical custody of their child. Child custody orders are usually issued as a part of a divorce or legal separation.

Parents who can agree on child custody matters may present their own parenting plan to the court, which can include details about each parent’s rights and responsibilities as well as a visitation schedule. If the court determines the plan is in the child’s best interest, it may approve it and include it in the final child custody orders. Once the orders are issued, they can only be canceled or modified with approval by the court.

Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live With?

A common question parents have regarding child custody in California is whether a child can choose which parent to live with. According to California’s Family Code, Chapter 2, Section 3042 (a), “If a child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation, the court shall consider, and give due weight to, the wishes of the child in making an order granting or modifying custody or visitation.” In other words, the court may use the child’s preferences as one of many factors to determine what would be in the child’s best interest.

The child’s age and maturity, as well as specific circumstances of the case, may also play a role in determining whether the child may be called to testify as a witness in court or may express their preferences in another manner. Ultimately, it is up to the judge to make the final decision, which may not always align with the child’s preferences if the court determines that the child’s wishes would likely not align with the child’s best interests in the long run.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Enforce a Child Custody Order?

In cases where you have a current child custody order and need help enforcing it, you can ask the court to help you with it, but it is often easier to seek the help of an attorney. A common example is when a non-custodial parent falls behind on their child support payments to the other parent. The custodial parent then prohibits the non-custodial parent from visiting the child until support payments are made. If you were to petition the court for help on your own, you might also be facing the consequences of not paying child support on time.

However, an attorney may be better equipped to help you navigate both issues. Your attorney can help you work out a plan to catch up on your child support payments or ask the court for a modification while still enforcing your right to parenting time with your child. Your attorney can assist you with the required paperwork for each scenario and can also play a vital role in helping you navigate any potential conflicts along the way.

Can I Represent Myself in a Child Custody Dispute?

There’s no getting around the fact that divorce and family law matters can get expensive, which leads many people to consider skipping the step of hiring an attorney and representing themselves instead. While you do have the right to opt for self-representation, doing so is hardly ever a good choice. First of all, child custody is one of the most stressful and emotionally-taxing aspects of a divorce. Because of that, it may be hard, if not impossible, to make rational decisions with a clear mind rather than just acting in an emotional manner.

Second, any family law proceeding may require you to be fully aware of the necessary procedures, paperwork, and deadlines. Handling this aspect of a child custody case often proves to be overwhelming for most people and can result in costly mistakes and unnecessary delays in your case. Finally, an attorney has years of experience and a deep understanding of the family law codes affecting your case. Unless you have an extensive legal background, you may end up appearing unprepared before the court. If you are representing yourself, the court expects you to handle yourself and your case with the same professionalism as an attorney, meaning you should not expect any leniency or favorable treatment just because you are acting as your own attorney. In the end, hiring an attorney becomes an investment rather than an expense – you can save time, avoid unnecessary mistakes and have more peace of mind knowing your case is in the hands of a professional.

At Hepner & Pagan, LLP, our child custody and family law attorneys can assist clients with a variety of family law matters. Reach out to our office at 408-688-9153 and request an initial consultation to see how we can help.

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