Who Gets Custody of the Children During a Divorce in California?

Everyone knows that the question of which parent gets custody of the kids is one of the primary issues in a divorce – and often the most litigated and emotionally fraught – along with questions of child support, property distribution, and spousal support. Answering the question of who gets custody may involve months of negotiation, fact-gathering, and even the use of experts and going to trial. But what happens to the children during that time that the divorce is pending?

Informal Custody Arrangements and Stipulated Custody Agreements During a Divorce

To be clear, it is not a necessity that you and your spouse have a custody order from the court in order to share the responsibility of raising your kids during the divorce. If you and the other parent are able to work together to create a calendar and divvy up your responsibilities (and perhaps even have one parent pay child support to the other voluntarily) without having a court involved, that is fantastic. That said, if things go south and you think the other parent is not holding up their end of the bargain, the court and/or law enforcement will not enforce your arrangement if there is no court order in place.

Thus, should you want the benefit and stability of a formal custody arrangement during the pendency of the divorce which you can actually enforce, you will want to submit that agreement to the court for its approval and order in the form of a Stipulated Agreement. This should not be a complicated process, assuming you and the other spouse are in agreement, and should not require you to appear in court. With such an agreement in place, you and your spouse can figure out the rest of the issues in your divorce while the children are able to enjoy some amount of stability in the meantime. Furthermore, there is absolutely no requirement that either of you agree that whatever temporary custody arrangement has to be the one you agree to in finalizing the divorce.

Seeking Temporary Custody Orders During a Divorce

If you and your spouse are unable to agree on a temporary custody arrangement during the divorce, you can file a Request for Order asking the court to set such a temporary arrangement until the divorce is finalized. You will still need to file supporting documents in court, and your spouse will be able to file responsive documents, and the two of you will need to show up at a hearing (typically 6-8 weeks from the time of filing) at which you and/or your attorneys may present arguments and evidence to the court. Prior to the hearing, most Family Courts, depending on the County will require both parents to attend “mediation” with a mental professional. In recommending Counties, the Family Court Judge will be provided with a copy of the mediator’s report.

As the name indicates, whatever custody orders are handed down at the hearing will be temporary, and you may need to return to court at a later time to have a trial to finalize a permanent custody arrangement, although even such “permanent” custody determinations are still subject to modification under the law.

Contested custody hearings and trials are certainly among the most challenging areas of family law, but an experienced family law attorney can guide you through the process to seek positive outcomes for you and your children.

Guidance on Your California Child Custody Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney

If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on your child custody issues or any other California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.