When parents go their separate ways in a divorce, figuring out child custody is an emotional and important issue. There are several different factors involved in determining who gets child custody in Orange County, California. This webpage will breakdown the important parts of this issue. Be advised, however, that this page is not a substitute for speaking with a child custody attorney. Every legal matter is different and this page is just information, not legal advice.
This page will cover the following topics:
- Child custody laws in California
- Determining what is in a child’s best interest
- Types of child custody
- What fees are involved in a child custody case?
- Attorney’s fees
- When should you hire a lawyer?
- Consultations with a family lawyer
If you are a grandparent and want to get custody, visit our legal guardianship page for more information. If your spouse is threatening to move out of state with your child, we highly recommend that you call an Orange County family lawyer immediately.
Child Custody Laws in California
First of all, almost any child custody attorney will tell you that contested custody proceedings are almost always counterproductive to the child’s best interests. Most courts mandate that parents try to settle custody and visitation issues out of the courtroom in private mediation. Montenegro v. Diaz. Most courts won’t even hear a custody dispute until after the parties have made a good faith attempt at resolving the issue privately.
When private resolution fails, the Family Court will rule on a custody arrangement. Child custody orders are based on the child’s best interest. In a child custody case, the judge considers what the best arrangement is for the child or children, not the parents. That means determining which parent will help the child to grow up into a good, contributing adult. California family law provides two guiding policies for determining a child’s best interest:
- The court’s primary concern must be the child’s health, safety and welfare
- Frequent and continuing contact with the parents must benefit the child
Each individual case will be different, so it is at the judge’s discretion to consider any relevant facts that would affect one’s parenting ability. This is an extremely important matter to decide on. All circumstances in a parent’s life will likely be considered by the court, so be ready to have your life examined.
But what about what the child wants? We’ve written an entire page about child’s preference and you should read it carefully if your child can articulate a preference for custody. If there is a history of domestic violence in your marriage, visit our domestic violence and child custody page.
Determining a Child’s Best Interest
When determining what is in the child’s “best interest,” a California court, looks to CA Family Code § 3011(a). This statute gives Courts broad discretion in determining what is in the best interest of the child. Your child custody attorney will explain what factors courts commonly evaluate. Basically, all of the custody or visitation decisions are made with the goal of promoting a healthy childhood, including the child’s security, mental health, happiness and emotional development.
What is or is not in a child’s best interest is never a black and white issue. Each parent may have opposing and valid opinions. But courts looks to many specific factors when determining what the best thing for a child. Within that framework, the Court looks at things like:
- The child’s wishes if he/she is old enough to articulate a meaningful preference
- A parent’s mental and physical health
- How a parent can sufficiently take care of a child’s special needs if he/she has any
- Who would provide the most stable home environment for the child. Note – this does not mean the Court prefers the parent with the higher income or wealth.
- Other children who are relevant to the child’s custody arrangement
- Support for other family members or extended family to interact with the child (i.e. visitation allowance for grandparents)
- The child’s interaction and relationship with other members of the household
- The child’s ability to adjust to school and the community
- Age and gender of the child
- Whether domestic violence is involved in the child custody case
- The parent’s method of discipline
- Evidence of drug, alcohol, or child/sex abuse by the parent. 
A judge would look at anything that would affect the child because their ultimate goal is to ensure the child’s safety and happiness in the custody arrangement. Of course, happiness does not mean that the child should get spoiled or get everything that he/she wants. A parent shouldn’t worry about being the favorite parent, but rather how to be the best parent to mold a child to become a stable, well-adjusted young adult in society.
Types of Child Custody
Child custody is awarded in two ways: physical and legal custody. It may be sole custody, where one parent is responsible, or joint custody, where the responsibility for the child is split. Descriptions of the possible custody arrangements are as follows:
Physical custody refers to where a child will live and who will take care of his/her daily routine, including, but not limited to, the child’s hygiene, school transportation, diet, food, and play time.
- Joint Physical Custody lets both parents share the physical responsibility of caring for the child. They would take turns providing residence for the child and taking care of his/her daily routine activities.
- Sole Physical Custody awards one parent full responsibility of the child’s physical needs. This does not mean that the noncustodial parent cannot visit the child, unless specifically ordered by the court (usually because of abuse or something else that may harm the child).
Legal Custody gives one or both parents the right to make decisions regarding the child’s education, health, and religious, or cultural activities.
- Joint Legal Custody gives both parents the right to decide these legal matters together. In this type of custody, a parent’s physical location is not relevant to the decision as these subjects can be discussed by both parents even at a distance.
- Sole Legal Custody may be given to one parent, giving them the responsibility to make all of the decisions regarding the child’s welfare.
To learn more about child custody arrangements and what each type means, visit our types of child custody page. It covers the above custody arrangements in far more detail. If you want to know how to get full custody of your child, read this blog post. If you want to know the common ways to lose custody, read our five common ways to lose child custody page.
Visitation is different than child custody. Click here to visit our Orange County visitation rights page.
What Fees Are Involved in a Child Custody Case?
A child custody case can get very expensive in Orange County. It largely depends on the type of custody you are fighting for. The costs that are usually involved in a child custody case are:
- The type of custody that is being disputed and how amicable the parents are
- Mediation fees – mediation is usually mandated before a court will hear the custody battle
- Specialists and expert fees that are used in custody evaluations
- Attorney fees
- Other miscellaneous fees (i.e. filing fees and service fees)
Child Custody Attorney Fees in Orange County, CA
The attorney’s fees for a child custody attorney are usually a large portion of the costs involved in a custody dispute. Making sure you get the right lawyer from the start is important. A lawyer’s cost varies, and it largely depends on the behavior of the parents are within the dispute. When one parent is fighting for sole custody the dispute can get extremely expensive for both sides.
A child custody attorney may bill by the hour or on a flat fee. A lower fee does not mean legal representation is of lesser quality. Some attorney’s charge a higher hourly rate or a flat fee but get the job done in less time. Others charge a lower rate but end up being more expensive. Moreover, every case if different, one case may not require an appearance in Court at all, but another needs multiple appearances before a judge and a trial.
A lower flat fee may be issued when the lawyer expects a quick custody battle that requires only mediation, maybe just a few court appearances and documents to file. If the case is more complicated, the lawyer may charge a higher flat fee rate. On the other hand, a child custody attorney may charge an hourly rate depending on how much a lawyer determines his/her time is worth. Higher or lower rates does not determine the lawyer’s ability. In fact, a lower rate might even indicate how invested a lawyer may be – he/she might expect a long, emotionally-charged fight, along with many billable hours.
There is not one set of fee structure that is better than the other. It all hinges on what works best for you and your lawyer.
When Should You Hire a Lawyer?
We advise parents to hire a child custody attorney as soon as possible. Even when they doubt that there will be a difficult child custody battle, hiring a lawyer brings incredible clarity to a scary subject. This doubly true if you’re married to a narcissistic spouse and you want to protect your kids.
It is especially important to hire a child custody attorney when the case will be complicated. Most Orange County cases are complicated. Complicated custody cases may include:
- Interstate custody, where one parent resides out-of-state
- Domestic abuse
- Parents can’t agree on major decisions of the child’s upbringing
- Grandparent mingling
- Other issues that are determined to not be in the child’s bet interest
Consultations with an OC Family Lawyer
A parent looking to gain custody of a child must make good decisions from the start. One of the best decisions one can make include hiring a great family law attorney. The way that your case is presented and how the court perceives you plays an important role in deciding who gets custody of your child.
That is why it is very important to begin your case with a child custody attorney who is experienced and has a proven track record. Even if you decide to settle your custody matter outside of court, you need to make sure that you have a qualified attorney to review the agreement. You want to make sure you understand how that agreement can affect your rights with your children.
If your ex is trying to move out of state with your child, we highly recommend that you visit our page on point and call a family attorney immediately. If your ex has already moved out of state with your child, and you want to know if you can bring him/her back, read this page on child custody jurisdiction (then contact a lawyer). If your ex spouse is a member of the military, or you are in the military, visit our military divorce page for more information.
If you are not a parent and want to get custody of a child or children, visit our legal guardianship page for more information.
Contact our firm to get a consultation with an experienced California child custody attorney.
 Family Law Code § 3011