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2019 Guide to Parental Rights in California

Going through a divorce can be difficult. Not only can the divorce process be emotionally charged, it can also be fraught with legal confusion, especially when babies or children are involved.

If you are a mother or father who has recently been served with divorce papers, or if you are a parent who intends to file for divorce in the near future, it’s important to familiarize yourself with some basic aspects of parental rights in California divorce cases. The more you understand about your legal rights and responsibilities, the better prepared you will be for the divorce process and its impacts on your relationship with your child. This brief guide for divorcing and divorced parents in California will help you understand:

  • Your rights to child custody and visitation, which is also called “parenting time,” as a custodial or non-custodial parent.
  • Your rights to receive child support payments as ordered by the family court.
  • Your rights to request modification of an existing child support order.

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Mothers’ and Fathers’ Rights to Child Custody and Parenting Time (Visitation)

If your child is a minor, custody must be determined. You and your spouse have the right to propose your own child custody plan, which is also called a “time-share plan.” If, however, you and your spouse disagree on custody and are unable to resolve your dispute via custody mediation, the court will have no choice but to make a custody determination for you.

In such a scenario, the court will assign custody on the basis of what is best for your child. To make this determination, the court will scrutinize factors such as financial resources, earning capacity, work commitments, community ties, criminal histories, substance abuse problems, and other variables impacting the child’s home environment and general welfare.

If you are granted sole physical custody, you have the right, and indeed the responsibility, to have your child live in your household for the majority of the year. Depending on the circumstances, you may have the right to move with your child, but should first consult with a divorce lawyer in California.

If you are granted sole legal custody, you have the right to make legal decisions on behalf of your child, such as decisions about education and healthcare.

If you are granted joint custody, you and your spouse will both have the right to share partial physical and legal custody.

If you are not granted custody, you will still have a right to visit with your child, which is called “visitation” or “parenting time,” unless your parental rights are terminated.

There is a common misconception that courts “always” or “automatically” grant custody to a child’s mother. Though it is unlawful for courts to assign custody on the basis of parental gender, preconceptions and stereotypes can still hamper a parent who lacks legal representation. Whether you are a child’s father or mother, you will need a California child custody attorney who has the skill and experience to protect your custody rights effectively.

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Fathers’ and Mothers’ Rights to Child Support Payments

Minor children require financial support, which is aptly called “child support.” Either parent can be ordered to pay child support, regardless of gender, depending on the custody arrangement.
If the court instructs you to pay child support, you must comply with the court’s orders. You do not have the right to withhold visitation because you have not received child support, nor do you have the right to withhold child support because you have not been allowed visitation. You do, however, have the right to contact a family law attorney, who can help you concerning:

  • A spouse who is not making child support payments, in which case an attorney can help you enforce the support order.
  • A spouse who is not letting you see your child, in which case an attorney can help you exercise your rights to visitation.

You have the right to request, though are not necessarily entitled to receive, modification of your existing child support order. If child support becomes too expensive, you have a right to request a reduction to the amount. If the level of support you are receiving becomes inadequate, you have a right to request an increase in the amount. Be advised that the court will allow a modification of child support only if you can show that there has been a significant change in your financial circumstances, such as a job loss, medical emergency, natural disaster, or period of incarceration.

Ventura and Santa Barbara Family Law Attorneys for Parents

It does not matter whether you are a mother or father, whether you are a biological or adoptive parent, or how many children you have. Regardless of such factors, it is in every parent’s best interests to seek legal guidance from a knowledgeable family law lawyer at the outset of the divorce process, particularly if a child custody dispute or child support dispute is anticipated.

It is important to consult with a lawyer to discuss any California alimony regulation changes, as these could affect your financial planning. If you require legal assistance with any aspect of the divorce process in California, including legal separation, the grounds for divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, property division, postnuptial or prenuptial agreements, or protection from abuse, call The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC at (805) 585-5056 for a free and completely confidential legal consultation. We have over 22 years of experience helping moms, dads, same-sex couples, military parents, high net worth couples, grandparents, legal guardians, and others resolve family law matters in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

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