Child Custody
San Diego Custody Attorney is here to help you

Where will my children live? How often will I see them? What if we don’t agree on where the children will live? What will happen if the other parent wants to move out of state with my children? These are just a few of the questions that arise.

When parents separate, they have to decide how to share their children. This is the most painful and stressful part of the separation. Parents often feel overwhelmed with anxiety for themselves and their children.

Some parents seek assistance from family therapists for advice on how to tell the children about the separation, and how to share the children. Others look for advice in books or materials on the internet. It is best for everyone if parents can sit down with each other and make their own agreements on child-sharing. It is also best if parents can sit down with the children together, and tell them about the separation and the child-sharing plan. Most experts agree that the children should not be asked to choose between their parents, although older teenagers will want to have a say in where they will be living.

When one parent files a petition with the court and requests orders for child custody and visitation, the court will make the decisions for the family if the parents do not agree.

In California the Family Court offers mediation to help parents with these decisions. In San Diego County, Family Court Services (“FCS”) provides child custody recommending counseling in cases where the parents cannot agree on a child custody sharing plan. The FCS counselor will make written recommendations to the court if the parents do not agree during the counseling session. If parents do not accept the FCS recommendations, the court will make the decision after a hearing. Both parties have the right to present testimony by themselves and other witness, to offer documentary evidence, and to make legal arguments.

Many people do not get legal advice until after they get a negative recommendation from Family Court Services, or a negative ruling in Family Court. By then it may be too late for a good attorney to help. It is important to get expert legal advice before going to mediation or to court. It is expensive for an attorney to attempt to fix mistakes that may be made by people without legal representation.

Many parents make the mistake of thinking they will automatically get 50/50 custody. However, there are no rules for deciding child custody, as there are for dividing retirement plans or other assets in a divorce. There is no preference for either parent to have custody, except that if the parents are unmarried, the father must establish paternity before he can claim the right to custody or visitation.

In California, the Family Code defines two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody means the right to make important decisions about the child’s health, education and welfare. It does not determine where the child lives.

Physical custody means where the child resides.

Legal and physical custody can be either joint or sole.

Sole legal custody means that one parent has the right and responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of the child.

Joint legal custody means that both parents share the right and responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of the child.

Sole physical custody means that a child shall reside with and be under the supervision of one parent, subject to the power of the court to order visitation.

Joint physical custody means that both parents have significant periods of physical custody. The goal of joint physical custody is to assure a child of frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

Many family law attorneys and mediators prefer to use the term “child sharing” or “parenting time” instead of the emotionally charged term “physical custody.”

Visitation, child sharing or parenting time will vary depending on the age of the child, the work schedule of the parents, and the geographical distance between the parents’ residences after they separate.

Move-away or relocation cases: These are the terms used to describe cases where one parent wants to move with the children to another area of California, to another state or even another country. Move-away cases can have lifelong consequences for parents and children. If the court grants permission for one parent to relocate with the children, the other parent’s relationship with the children will be impaired.

If you are involved in a move-away case, it is crucial for you to get legal advice about your rights, before you go to court.

There are programs in the San Diego area that will benefit both parents and children during the painful process of divorce and separation. These programs include the following:


The San Diego Superior Court has a wealth of information on its website, www.sdcourt.ca.gov, go to Family on the menu. The Family Court Services orientation video may be viewed online.

In addition, there are national organizations whose websites have valuable information for parents:
Association of Family and Conciliation Courts www.afccnet.org, go to Resources for Families
Up to Parents www.uptoparents.org

One of the most highly recommended books on co-parenting is Mom’s House, Dad’s House, by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D. It has been updated several times, and now has been joined by Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids, and The Co-Parenting Toolkit.
Dr. Ricci’s website is www.thecoparentingtoolkit.com.