Fortunately, California law provides for “frequent and continued contact” with both parents. Parents should “share the rights and responsibilities” of bringing up their child, so long as it’s in the best interest of the child.
The law does not automatically prohibit custody or visitation based on your sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or physical disability. This is true even if you were never married to the other parent.
Can Parents Create Their Own Custody Agreements?
Yes, cooperation and co-parenting is encouraged, whenever possible. However, informal agreements between parents become legally enforceable only when they are written, signed by both parents, and signed by the judge as part of a court order.
When parents cannot reach an agreement about custody, both parents must attend mandatory, court-ordered mediation before a judge will hear the case and issue custody orders.
Mediation is a 1.5-2 hour appointment between parents and an employee from Family Court Services called a mediator. The mediator meets with the parents together or each parent individually to ask questions about the child and family history.
Mediators serve as neutral professionals who help parents resolve disputes about child care and custody. They work with parents to develop a parenting plan and custody schedule to address the unique needs of each child. If the parents reach an agreement, the mediator will draft the document and it will become a custody order if signed by the Court.
How Do You Get a Custody Order?
You can get a custody order either during divorce or paternity proceedings. If you’re married or in a domestic partnership you can get visitation and custody orders as part of these types of cases or proceedings:
- Divorce, Legal Separation, or Annulment
- Domestic Violence Restraining Order
- Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children
In rare circumstances where a parent can prove immediate harm to a child, that parent may ask for temporary emergency orders from the Court. These orders, known as “ex parte” orders, are very difficult to get.
A parent must be able to show immediate harm to a child — a pattern of violence against the child, sexual abuse of the child, or a risk that the child will be taken out of California.
If the Court grants these temporary orders, the judge will schedule a hearing to determine whether the orders should be extended.