How to Pick a Child Custody Attorney
The sooner you hire an attorney, the more time that attorney will have to prepare for your case.
There is nothing as precious as our children. As you look unto the horizon and consider the implications of divorce, child custody becomes the weightiest of issues. You’ve worked hard and you don’t want to lose your business or your fortune but nothing will cut as deep as losing time with your children.
What is the role of a Child Custody Lawyer?
Unless you are compiling a dream team of tons of lawyers, your child custody lawyer is the same person as your divorce lawyer. In the vast majority of cases (even super high profile celebrity cases) the “child custody lawyer” is just another facet of the divorce lawyer’s job. But what is that job?
- Knowing the law regarding Child Custody
Every State is different and child custody is more fluid than most other types of cases. In order to have the best representation, you need a family law attorney who keeps up with all the significant appellate court rulings. Someone who doesn’t just offer child custody legal services but that does them often enough that they can use previous cases for your advantage.
- Preparing you for the best, worst and most likely scenario
Every divorce is unique, and every child custody arrangement is equally unique. This means you need a lawyer that can not only think outside the box but has the experience to know all the different possible scenarios. And if nothing else, can alleviate your worst fears. When it comes to our kids, emotions run high and we often think the absolute worst can happen. A solid child custody lawyer can let you know what’s completely off the table.
- Determining which factors will play a role in your case
As long as you are honest, a good child custody lawyer will be able to tell you within the first consultation what factors will play a role in your case. Things like abuse, finances, how the kids are doing in school, etc are the “basic” components that they build your case upon. If you are interviewing an attorney and they have to look up case law about something so basic, move on to another option.
- Developing a game plan that will provide the best possible outcome
You want someone who will fight for you without doing things that will hurt your relationship with your kids. Yes you want to win, but you also want to look your kids in the eyes. A child custody lawyer’s job includes a game plan that will make life as best as possible for your entire family.
Who is the direct client of a child custody lawyer?
This is not your kid’s attorney. If the court deems it necessary, they will appoint what’s called an attorney ad litem. Officially, that person’s client is the child. However, everyone from your attorney to the court clerk is interested in pursuing the best outcome for your children.
If you hire a child custody lawyer, they work for you. Their goals will be your goals. Their intention will be to put you, and your family, in the best possible position post trial.
At What Age Can a Child Make a Custody Choice?
The State of California generally allows a 14 year old or older child to voice their preference. However, this is always up to the Judge’s discretion. There have been lots of cases where children younger than 14 have been able to voice opinions and lots of cases where a Judge didn’t allow 14 and over children voice preference.
These variables could be anything but come down to the best interest of the child. As you can imagine, testifying is a stressful experience and publicly choosing one parent over another can have lasting effects. Judges have also been known to use various other means to understand a child’s preference.
All of that is to say, even when a child voices a preference as to their living arrangements, this is not the final decision. If you are specifically concerned about your child testifying in your divorce case, this is something to bring up to your attorney early. They won’t be able to read a Judge’s mind, especially if a Judge hasn’t been selected for your case yet, but they will be able to explain the variables that go into such a decision.
Types of Child Custody
California has two distinct types of custody for children. Physical custody is where the child lives and Legal custody is the ability to make choices for the child. In most cases, parents share both types of custody.
For example, if the kids live with you but they get every other weekend (very common!) with your ex-spouse they have shared physical custody where you are the “custodial” or “residential” parent. If you share legal custody that means you have to come to an agreement with your ex-spouse for things like where the kids go to school and any medical decisions.
Sharing legal custody doesn’t necessarily mean shared physical custody. And again, everything boils down to the best interest of the child. And the less able the two parties are of making decisions together, the more the court will need to intervene.
If the two parties can create a California Parenting Plan that covers all the necessary elements, it makes life much easier. In that case, the parenting plan is taken to a Judge for sign-off. Essentially a parenting plan consists of a schedule for visitation, as well as the rights and responsibilities of each parent.
A child custody lawyer can be very helpful in pointing out potential pitfalls of any parenting plan because of their familiarity with you and your case.
Can Child Custody Change Over Time?
Absolutely! As children grow, their everyday lives change. Whether that means more school-related activities or possibly new health concerns. As your children’s needs change, you can modify your custody arrangements through court-ordered modifications.
Even if you and your ex-spouse are on great terms, it’s wise to keep the court updated on any modifications. If you are truly in agreement, it can be as simple as filing an updated Parenting Plan. However, if you aren’t on great terms, it’s best to reach out to your original Child Custody Lawyer as they will have the best grasp of your case.
When to Hire a Child Custody Lawyer?
The sooner you hire an attorney, the more time that attorney will have to prepare for your case. And when it comes to giving your children the best possible outcome, you can’t hire an attorney too early.
If you have read to the bottom of this article, then it is probably a good time to reach out and ask questions about your specific situation. Please call 949-734-7300 to speak directly to Hollie A. Lemkin. After a few minutes, you will know the best next steps to take.