Going through a family law case is agonizing emotionally, taxing financially, complicated, confusing, and expensive, regardless of whether you and your spouse are getting along or at each other's throats, whether you have an attorney (or attorneys) or not, how much education you have, or how much money or how many children you have. It also can be difficult to get accurate and clear information, as it seems everyone has their own agenda in offering you their opinion. Your friends give you advice based on their experience, and each family law case is so different that it can be difficult if not dangerous to generalize. Attorneys give you information designed to convince you that you need their services (and to pay them lots of money). The media gives you information about celebrities with endless amounts of money. The internet gives you so much information that it's impossible to determine what's accurate.
This guide is designed to help you work with your co-parent to determine a comprehensive parenting plan (also known as a custody and visitation order). I believe that it is not always necessary to hire an attorney at exorbitant cost to complete your family law case successfully. This guide can be your starting place for saving as much as possible during your family law case. You CAN do it yourself, and I can help.
If you need more assistance than this guide, I can also help with hourly coaching. With just an hour or two of coaching, I can guide you through the maze of forms, documents, requirements, expectations, and knowledge required to emerge from your family law filing, hearing, judgment or trial with success. My fees are a small fraction of the cost of hiring an attorney, most often 5% or less of this cost. In today's economy, having the backing and experience of an experienced family law litigator on your side at the cost of an attorney consultation can be the difference between winning your case or losing everything.
Following are the 100 things you must know before creating a parenting plan (in no particular order):
These are suggestions of items for discussion and items you may want to put into your parenting plan. You and your co-parent may need none of these, or you may need more help than this guide can offer. Your parenting plan should be tailored to your situation, and the suggestions below are simply that, suggestions to ensure a comprehensive plan covering all potential issues. Us lawyers tend to want to plan for the worst, but you are welcome to hope for the best. Just make sure you make all those plans in the event your hopes do not come true.
Put the emotions aside and treat this as a business relationship.
Do not forget that the needs of your children come first.
Understand that your children will be going through a difficult adjustment (just like you are), and they need support through it.
Putting your parenting plan down in writing does not mean that you and your co-parent do not trust each other or that you disagree about everything (or anything!). Creating a written parenting plan is sensible and practical. In your busy life, you may not be able to remember each and every detail you agreed to, so memorializing it in writing ensures that you both have the same understanding.
Generally, you cannot restrict or deny parenting time to your co-parent. In California, the relationship between a parent and a child is sacred and quite protected. In the event your co-parent has problems with substance abuse or domestic violence, you may be able to restrict parenting time or have it monitored, but you should speak with a Family Law Coach or qualified attorney in that case.
During the pendency of a divorce, the Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (ATROs) on the back of the Summons prohibit you and your co-parent from leaving the State of California without advance written permission from your co-parent. Remember this if you have a trip to Tahoe or Reno planned, or any other trips outside California. The court will take violations of the ATROs very seriously. My article, 25 Things You Don't Know About the Family Law Summons and Petition that Could Save You Everything, includes information about the other ATROs that restrain your actions during the pendency of your divorce.
When speaking to your co-parent, remember to stick to the task or issue at hand rather than talking about your relationship or family law case. Resist the urge to fight old fights.
Understand that things WILL go wrong. Someone will be late, children will get hurt or in trouble, and the routine in your co-parent's household will be different than yours. None of these things make your co-parent a bad parent. Chronic or repeated direct violations of a court order, however, are serious and should be handled.
Keep records, especially if you have or expect a prolonged dispute. Get a notebook and keep track of every time you have the child(ren) and when your co-parent does. Write down exchange times and places as well as the appearance of the child(ren) and whether either of you is late. Get school attendance, grade and homework records on a regular basis.
Know that your children will tell you what you want to hear. If they think you want to hear how much they want to stay with you rather than go to your co-parent's house, they will tell you this. This is not necessarily a reflection on how THEY feel, but rather is a reflection on the signals you are sending them. Children want to please their parents, and giving them signals that you want them to 'prefer' you is very confusing and detrimental to them.
It used to be the case that courts and society believed that a baby needed to be with its mother 99% of the time to 'bond.' This is no longer the case. While there are logistics involved with feeding, there is no reason why a father and mother cannot share parenting time with an infant equally.
Once your child(ren) reach age 16 and are able to drive, it will be much more difficult to oversee your parenting plan. Increased flexibility (unless there are behavioral issues, in which case the reverse is true) is often very helpful.
Teen-agers frequently have multiple responsibilities and activities, such as sports, jobs, friends, and other extra-curricular activities. You must understand that when your parenting time falls during a soccer game or practice, that it is more important that you support your child(ren) than have parenting time where your child is sitting idle in your house.
The judge will decide what parenting plan will be right for you, your co-parent, and your child(ren) if you are unable to agree amongst yourselves. The standard the judge will use is the best interests of the child(ren). Keep in mind that the judge knows neither you, your co-parent, your child(ren) or your situation, so s/he will be in the worst place to make a decision. This is the chance you take when you are unable to come to an agreed resolution.
Separate your needs from your children's needs. While you may need a lot of space away from your co-parent, your child(ren) need BOTH parents a great deal, especially young children and especially during the initial stages of a separation.
If you are completely unable to communicate with your co-parent, use a notebook to communicate back and forth. Buy a spiral notebook at the grocery store, and put your child's name on it (get a separate one for each child). When you have parenting time with your child(ren), write in the notebook any information YOU would want to have if your child was at the other parent's house. Information that is relevant includes homework (has it been completed?), grades, changes to the child's schedule, extracurricular activities, plans with friends, family celebrations, health issues, medication information (what to take and when and any side effects), and/or punishment information.
Do not use your child(ren) as a spy for what your co-parent is doing. Involving your child(ren) in any way in your divorce or custody dispute will harm them. Also, if the judge finds out about what you are doing, you could be in trouble.
Do not antagonize the judge when you are in court. The Family Law Coach's article, The Top 25 Things You Must Know Before Going to Your Court Hearing can help you to act appropriately in court.
During the transition time of your family law case, your child will likely act out and/or regress to younger behaviors. This does not mean that you or your co-parent are parenting poorly. This is a natural response to the dramatic changes, and signal a need for you to be patient and understanding.
One of the best ways to help your children during your family law case is to have predictability, stability, structure and consistency in your interactions. With so much change happening in your relationship to your co-parent and the child's schedule, the more you and your co-parent can provide structure and stability in other areas, the better your child(ren) will adjust.
In California, there are two kinds of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves who is responsible for the health, education and welfare of the child(ren). Physical custody involves where the child(ren) live. In almost all cases, save those involving domestic violence, substance abuse, or where one parent is completely absent, you will share both joint legal and physical custody. You should get used to this.
The advantage of shared custody include a child having access to two parents who are emotionally involved, regular contact of the child with both parents, the child knowing both parents love and want him or her, the sharing of child care and a buffer against parent 'burnout.'
There is no "typical" parenting plan. Each family will have their own unique circumstances that make their parenting plan different.
When you are determining how much time you can spend with your child(ren), be realistic. This is not the time to be thinking about child support and how much or little you will pay or receive based on timeshare. Think honestly about the time you have available and balance that with your work, other activities, and the child's schedule.
You have a variety of options for exchanging your child(ren). One option is to exchange the child by having one parent drop the child(ren) off at school, and having the other parent pick the child(ren) up. This avoids contact and confrontation between you and your co-parent. Another way to avoid contact is to have the parent dropping off the child(ren) stay in the car outside the other parent's house. This is not effective if the children are unable to walk by themselves or if the door is too far away from the driveway. If you need to exchange the child(ren) in a public place, a fast food restaurant is a common alternative as it allows a waiting parent to sit indoors and to have a record of appearance (by purchasing something at the restaurant). Most counties have supervised exchange facilities, but this should be used as a last resort when there are issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, or chronic absenteeism.
When working on your parenting plan, start with issues you can agree on, and start simple. Can you agree to keep the child(ren) in the same school? Start there. Starting with agreements sets the tone for the entire discussion, and agreements can lead to more agreements. If you start with the biggest, nastiest, most controversial issue, then you're not likely to get anywhere.
Allow unrestricted access to the telephone and email for communication to the other parent when the child is with you. Understand that your child is conflicted, and longs for the other parent while with you (and vice versa). Allowing contact will reassure your child. If it upsets you to have your child contact your co-parent when with you, consider a telephone in your child's room or a special cell phone that only calls you and your co-parent.
Allow your child(ren) privacy to communicate with your co-parent while with you. Do not listen over their shoulder during a phone conversation or monitor emails or instant messages. You may want to specify appropriate hours for the contact, however, to limit disruption to the household.
Most courts will restrict or prohibit corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is inflicting physical pain to stop a behavior. Don't do it.
If your co-parent wishes to move away, and by move away the distance may be as short as to a different school district or as far as a different country, see a family law coach or qualified, experienced attorney IMMEDIATELY.
You need to consult a professional family law coach or attorney if you or your co-parent have issues with substance abuse, anger management, domestic violence, physical or mental health issues, or with parental alienation (which is where one parent is acting to damage the relationship the child has with the other parent).
Your parenting plan will consist of an order (imposed by the judge if you cannot decide with your co-parent, agreed-upon by both parents, or a combination of the two) determining when each of you will have the child(ren). It can be as specific or as detailed as you wish. Because future disputes are difficult to predict, your best option is to create as detailed a plan as you possibly can. If you wish to incorporate flexibility in your plan, you may do this if both parents agree. But make sure you have a set schedule to fall back on if you have a disagreement.
Particularly if one parent is the primary caregiver during school hours or days, include in your parenting plan how that parent will share information about school events, such as parent-teacher conferences, awards, grades, other school events, homework, field trips, etc. Both parents should have access to the child(ren)'s school records and be the two primary emergency contacts at the school(s).
If you or your co-parent is unable to care for the child(ren) for a specified amount of time, you should include in your parenting plan a right of first refusal for child care. The time period you specify will depend on the age and maturity of your child, and can vary between one hour (for a small child, for example) or overnight (for a teen-ager, for example). You will need to work with your co-parent to determine a balance between the hassle of making an exchange for a short period of time with the desire to spend additional time with your child(ren), as well as the potential child care cost.
If your co-parent permits your child(ren) to spend overnights with friends, relatives or to participate in other primarily-social events, you should not look at this as your co-parent failing to spend quality time with your child(ren). Such activities should be encouraged, provided they do not make up the majority of your co-parent's parenting time.
If your child has a class trip or other activity, such as an athletic practice or game, and if you cannot get along or be in the same space as your co-parent, then whichever parent has physical custody of the child on the day of the event will be permitted to attend the event.
Medical appointments should be scheduled with care such that the parent not scheduling the appointment should have both advance notice of the appointment as well as the opportunity to attend.
In case of an emergency medical matter, the custodial parent should notify the non-custodial parent of the incident as soon as reasonably possible. If you and your co-parent cannot agree on anything, you should specify how many hours is considered "as soon as reasonably possible." Generally, within two to three hours is an outside limit.
You and your co-parent should share equally any and all unreimbursed medical expenses. If you fear that your co-parent will incur unnecessary medical or dental expenses (braces at too early an age is a common complaint), then include in your agreement that any extraordinary expenses (defined as you like, usually by dollar limit such as $100 or $1000) must be discussed in writing by the parents PRIOR to incurring the expense or the parent incurring the expense will not be entitled to reimbursement.
To be reimbursed for medical and dental expenses, copies of receipts should be sent to the reimbursing parent on a regular basis (you can specify monthly, quarterly, or yearly), with a provision that the expenses should be reimbursed within a set time period, such as 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days.
You may want to include provisions for requiring permission from your co-parent before allowing your child(ren) to do certain things, such as extreme haircuts (i.e. shaved head or dramatic hair color), facial hair, piercing (generally other than one hole in each ear for girls), or tattoos.
A provision that each parent will maintain the clothing and belongings brought to their house and belonging to the other parent is often helpful. Clothing belonging to one parent shall be returned to the other parent either laundered or by the child wearing the clothing.
Each parent should have adequate clothing, accessories and belongings for the child(ren). This requirement may include actual space, as children should have their own space (a room of their own) at each house. There is no problem with a child sharing a room with another child (though except for very young children, they should be separated by gender), but all children except for babies should not be sharing a room or bed with their parent.
You may wish to include a provision regarding contact and visits with extended family members such as grandparents, uncles and aunts, etc. Depending on your circumstances, you may want to encourage or limit contact. Except in cases of domestic violence, substance abuse or inappropriate behavior or activities, contact and visits with extended family members should be encouraged.
College expenses are very high, and with the division of your households, it will be increasingly difficult to save money for college. You should contact a financial advisor to help you decide how to plan for college expenses. The Family Law Coach has a network of qualified financial advisors who can help you with these and other financial decisions.
The court cannot make orders regarding your child after your child is 18 AND graduated from high school (up to a limit of age 19 in California, which means child support can continue until your child has graduated from high school or has reached age 19, whichever is first).
Because the court cannot make child support orders past high school graduation/age 19, the court cannot make orders regarding the payment of college expenses. You, however, can make these agreements with your co-parent, and it is highly recommended to do so. You can specify what will be paid for (tuition, room & board, books & supplies, spending money), you can specify what colleges are acceptable (public, in-state versus private or out-of-state), and you can specify whether expenses will be paid if your child is only a part-time student or is enrolled in a vocational college. Paying for college is a different matter and you should talk with your co-parent and a financial advisor.
Parenting plans will cease when your child turns 18, regardless of whether s/he has graduated high school. At 18, a person becomes an adult in the eyes of California law.
You may want to take out dual life insurance policies, naming the other parent as beneficiary for the benefit of your child(ren) to ensure future support in case something happens to one of you. You can also specify a third party to be the beneficiary but do NOT specify your child(ren) to be the beneficiary as minors may not receive property.
Do not encourage, or allow your co-parent to encourage, your child(ren) to call your co-parent by their first name, nor to call a step-parent "Mom" or "Dad."
In California, the parent who is seen to be most likely to encourage "frequent and continuing" contact with your child(ren) will be the parent who is considered to be more suitable to be the primary custodial parent (i.e. have more than 50% parenting time). If you act in ways to alienate your child(ren) from your co-parent, you will be adversely affected in court.
Specify in your agreement HOW you will communicate about your child(ren) with each other, whether it is in person, by telephone, fax or email (specify numbers and email addresses) , or by notebook. You may also want to specify the frequency, and perhaps the exact day and time, of the contact.
You should not call your co-parent, or permit your co-parent to call you, to talk to your child(ren) at unreasonable hours, often described as after 9:00pm or before 8:00am.
A common "standing order" is to prohibit each parent from making disparaging remarks about the other parent, either by that parent or by others, to or within earshot of the child(ren).
You should never allow your child(ren) to carry messages between you and your co-parent, whether it's a verbal message or a note.
You should ask permission from your co-parent before scheduling activities on your co-parent's time. This includes signing the child(ren) up for sports or other extracurricular activities where practices or games will take place during the parenting time of your co-parent.
You may want to take, and/or ask your co-parent to take, a parenting class and file the notice of completion of the class with the court and/or provide it to the other parent.
You may wish to agree to coordinate your child(ren)'s schedule(s) from house to house, such as meal times, nap times, bed times, and other routines.
Each parent must advise the other of his or her current address, residence, work and cell telephone number, and email. Co-parents cannot hide from each other, and one parent having the contact information for the child (i.e. cell number) is not sufficient.
You may want to specify that neither parent is to consume alcohol within eight hours of parenting time with the child(ren).
Like a parenting class, you each may want to take a CPR class and provide the other, or the court, with a certificate of completion of the class.
To prevent your co-parent from moving away, you should include a provision that neither parent may change the child(ren)'s residence outside of the current school district without written consent from the other parent. In addition, the agreement should include that a parent wishing to move away shall provide the co-parent with no less than 45 days advance written notice, which includes the proposed move date and location.
Advance written consent should also be required before changing your child(ren)'s health care provider, deciding on non-emergency surgery, participating in dangerous activities (i.e. hunting), changing your child's name, allowing your child to work, obtaining a driver's license, and permitting your child to marry or enlist in the armed forces.
You may want to specify provisions for travel with your child(ren). For vacations, you may want to provide your co-parent with an advance written itinerary, including flight times and numbers and addresses and telephone numbers of places you will stay, of all travel plans. For international travel, you may want to keep you child(ren)'s passport in a safe location with access to both parents. You may also want to specify the conditions under which your child(ren) may travel internationally (i.e. restricting some countries or duration of travel).
You should include a provision that if one parent violated the terms of your agreement such that the other parent is required to take that parent to court to enforce the agreement, that the violating parent shall pay the non-violating parent's attorney fees.
The winter or Christmas holiday can be divided in many different ways, depending on your traditions and preferences. You can split the school vacation, traditionally two weeks, equally in half with one parent taking the first half and the other taking the second half, and you can alternate who has the first and second half. This sometimes makes for an awkward holiday, as the weeks do not always correspond to the two holidays (Christmas and New Year). An alternate way to divide the holiday is to exchange the child on the 23rd or 24th of the month, regardless of whether it falls early or late in the school holiday, and then alternate who gets the first part and who gets the second part. In this way, you always alternate the holiday. You may also have a situation where one parent always celebrates (or wants to celebrate) on Christmas Eve and the other always on Christmas Day, in which case the division of holidays is simpler. Generally, however, the parent who has parenting time on Christmas does not also have parenting time on Thanksgiving Day.
In dividing the Thanksgiving holiday, you can alternate the entire holiday, or divide it into two parts, Thursday-Friday and Saturday-Sunday. This allows each parent to have a Thanksgiving holiday with the child, but may not be feasible if the parents live far away from one another.
The spring break, or Easter holiday, is often paired with Thanksgiving, such that the parent who has parenting time on Thanksgiving also has parenting time on spring break/Easter. Parents can also divide the spring break in half, exchanging on Wednesday of the one-week break, or alternate the break in its entirety. In some cases, the parents may wish to actually share the Easter holiday and treat the spring break differently.
Generally, school holidays on a Friday or a Monday are granted to the parent who has parenting time on the weekend attached to the holiday. Alternate exchange arrangements, including time and location, may need to be made for these occasions.
Some parents want to divide the school holidays specifically. Other than teachers' days, the school holidays are: Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Birthday, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and day after., and sometimes Veteran's Day and Columbus Day.
Halloween should be discussed between the parents, as the parents may wish to alternate it, and special arrangements may need to be made if the day falls on a day where one custodial parent has regular parenting time and the other has the holiday time. In this case, the parents will want to determine special exchange times and locations.
Holiday parenting time trumps regular parenting time.
You may want to make special arrangements for your child's birthday. You can alternate the day, much like Halloween is described above. You can split the day into two halves (common when the child is pre-school age). You can also make no special arrangements and let the day fall where it falls, each parent making their own celebration plans on their own parenting time. Make sure, however, that if you make special arrangements, that you specify exchange times and places for the special arrangements.
You may want to specify that Mother will have parenting time with the child(ren) on Mother's Day and that Father shall have parenting time on Father's Day. You can choose to exchange an entire weekend, if necessary, in this case, or choose to restrict the time to the Sunday alone.
You may want to specify that each parent has a specific period of time, often during the summer break, to have an extended vacation with the child(ren). This can be any length of time you wish, from a few days to the entire summer. You can specify that the time be takes in shorter blocks (i.e. each parent shall have two weeks of vacation each summer break, not to be taken in longer than one-week periods).
When one parent lives far away from the other parent, the court will often try to maximize the parenting time of the parent who does not have the child(ren) during the school year. Often this takes the form of the non-custodial (or far away) parent having the majority, if not entirety, of the summer break, spring break, and either the Christmas break or Thanksgiving (often alternating). Not infrequently, the school parent is permitted parenting time during the summer break for a week at either end, or a period for vacation, generally not more than 1-2 weeks. The frequency of visits to the non-custodial parent often depends on finances, and the parents generally are ordered to split evenly the costs of the transportation to the non-custodial parent.
In cases where the issue of custody and visitation are hotly contested, or in cases where one parent wishes to move away, the court will often order a custodial evaluation, called a "730 Evaluation" after the section in the Evidence Code. The evaluation is conducted by a court-appointed mental health professional trained in these kinds of evaluations. The evaluation will cost up to $10,000 or more, and generally the costs are divided between the parties equally. The evaluator will speak at length with you, your co-parent, your child(ren), your other family members, your child(ren)'s teachers and counselors, and issue a report that is often 30-40 pages, if not more. The court takes the recommendations of the evaluator very seriously, and it is difficult to overcome an evaluation that does not agree with your position. You should cooperate in every way with the ordered evaluation, and in fact may want to obtain information about the potential evaluators in your area to ensure the best one for your situation is appointed by the court.
If something were to happen to you or your co-parent, in most cases, the care, custody and control of your child(ren) will go to the other parent. If you are in a situation where you have sole physical and/or legal custody, and you do NOT want your co-parent to have care, custody and control of your child(ren) should something happen to you, then you need to see a qualified estate planner to determine your options. At the very least, you will want to have a Nomination of Guardian form so that your wishes are put into writing. The Family Law Coach offers FREE consultations for estate planning. Mention this article when making your appointment and receive 10% off your estate plan.
If you and your co-parent are unable to take care of your children for a period of time (this time may be as short as a few month or may last years), then someone else can petition to become the guardian of your child(ren). In California, one adult must be legally responsible for a child (though it can be two, it must be at least one and often one is logistically simpler). A guardian can be a friend or family member, and s/he must file paperwork with the court to obtain the guardianship. A guardianship is different from adoption. With an adoption, the biological parent loses all legal rights to the child. This is not the case with a guardianship, and often the biological parents are granted visitation rights with the child during the guardianship (if appropriate).
Another family member, such as a grandparent, may petition the court to have visitation time with your child(ren). Depending on the situation, winning the right to such visitation time can be very difficult. If you are in the position where a relative wishes to have visitation with your child(ren) and you object, then you should see a Family Law Coach or a qualified attorney.
In California, it is a felony to kidnap your child(ren), and there are also federal laws prohibiting kidnapping. Kidnapping is defined as concealing the location of a child, by a person with a right of custody or visitation, with the intent to deprive the other parent of contact with the child.
If you do not receive your ordered parenting time, then this has no bearing on your child support obligations. That is, if you do not receive parenting time pursuant to your court order, your child support obligations DO NOT CHANGE. You may not withhold child support in retaliation for not receiving parenting time. In fact, if you do not receive your parenting time for an extended period, then your child support could increase based on your lessened parenting time.
Conversely, if you withhold your child(ren) from your co-parent, you may be taken to court and your co-parent may argue that since you are not the parent who will encourage "frequent and continuing contact" with your child(ren) and your co-parent, that your parenting time should be reduced or limited.
Changing orders or judgments can be easy or very difficult, depending on the stage of your case. If you do not yet have a judgment, then you can change your parenting plan at any time, for any reason, because in a pre-judgment situation, the order is considered "temporary." Once you have a divorce judgment, then your order is considered "permanent" and you have to show a "change in circumstances" to be able to change your order. A change in circumstances can be a parent deciding to move, a new problem with substance abuse, or a problem with the child(ren), such as delinquency or poor school performance.
Your child(ren)'s preference where they want to live will not be taken into account in a custody dispute. The judge will not see or talk to your child(ren). While a child custody evaluator will, the child(ren)'s preference is not a deciding factor, and often is not even a large factor in the decision of where your child(ren)will live.
You may wish to have the court appoint an attorney to represent the interests of your child. If you feel that your child(ren)'s needs should be heard from their mouth(s), then you can request that the court appoint counsel for your minor child(ren).
When you change your parenting plan, your child support should also change, but this does not happen automatically if the issue of child support is not before the court. Depending on whether the child support will increase or decrease, you should file an Order to Show Cause for a modification of child support immediately when your parenting plan changes.
Modifications of orders are retroactive to the date that your Order to Show Cause was filed, so if you file a motion to modify child support on the day that your parenting plan changed, then your new child support order will be retroactive to the date of the change and your motion.
If you or your co-parent move out of the family home when a divorce is filed, or afterwards, then this cannot be used by the parent remaining in the home as evidence that you "abandoned" your child(ren). The court understands that often parents need to be separated during a divorce proceeding, and this does not mean that they are leaving their child(ren).
If your child(ren) refuse to visit your co-parent, you must make them go. While teenagers can be willful and headstrong, by California law they are subject to their parent's control until they are 18 years old. If you allow your child(ren) not to go to your co-parent's parenting time, then you could be held in contempt of court for violating the court order.
If your co-parent violates any aspect of the court's orders, then you can file an Order to Show Cause to have the court hold your co-parent in contempt of court. If you are found guilty of contempt, you can be fined or even sent to jail for the violation. This is a serious, quasi-criminal action that you want to avoid by ensuring that you comply with the court orders.
Mothers are not inherently more likely to get custody of a child than fathers, even when the child is very young (the courts used to call this a child of "tender years"). Courts in the past have favored mothers over fathers, but this is no longer the case.
Race and sexual orientation are not and may not be considerations for the court in awarding (or not awarding) custody or parenting time to a parent.
If one parent moves out of California with the child(ren), or even out of the county where your original divorce was heard, then you may be able to change the location of your court case, your venue, upon petition of the court. In general terms, you need to petition the original court to change the venue, and much depends on the location of the child. In this situation, you should get in touch with a Family Law Coach or qualified attorney.
Generally, you will not be able to change the last name of your child, even if you change your name after your divorce. You will need to get a court order to do this, and except in specialized circumstances, this may be difficult.
Generally, religion does not affect an award of custody or parenting time. If you and your co-parent disagree, then you should set parameters for the religious education your child(ren) will receive. Unless there are concerns about cult or other unusual behaviors or practices, the court will leave the issue of religion alone.
An extramarital affair will generally not have any bearing on your custody and parenting plan. If you or your spouse has a live-in significant other, however, the court may consider the appropriateness of the relationship between the new person and the child(ren), and assess any potential harm to the child(ren) because of it.
Generally a court will not separate siblings, however, if you and your co-parent believe separating siblings to be in your children's best interest, you may agree to do so.
You may request of your co-parent, or the court, to make an order prohibiting smoking (tobacco or marijuana) around your child(ren).
Your child will not be used or allowed in court AT ANY TIME as a witness, participant or spectator. In some jurisdictions, you could face court action for bringing a minor child to the court.
Joint or sole custody may be awarded based on the best interests of the child and other factors that include 1) the preference of the child, 2) the desire and ability of each parent to allow an open and loving relationship between the child and the other parent, 3) the child's health, safety and welfare, the nature and contact with both parents and 4) the history of alcohol and drug use. Marital misconduct may be considered.
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