When parents decide not to raise their children together, it is important to develop a plan for who will have custody, what the visitation schedule will be, who will pay support and how much. Although informal agreements can work for short periods of time, it is wise to seek a legally binding and enforceable court order addressing custody, visitation and child support issues. The Superior Court of California, in the county where one of the parents resides, issues child support, custody and visitation orders.
The Legal Process
When parents divorce, the court will include child support, custody and visitation determinations in the divorce decree, which acts as an enforceable order. If you are divorcing, you must ask the court to determine these issues in your petition for divorce. Parents who are not married can ask the court for the same determinations by filing a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children or a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship. If you can come to a custody and visitation agreement on your own, the court will usually approve it if the plan is in the child’s best interest. Mediators specially trained in family law can help you work out a custody and visitation plan.
Custody and Visitation Factors
If you cannot come to an agreement about custody and visitation, the courts in California will make a decision that is in the best interests of the child. In determining the child’s best interest, the court will consider the age and health of the child, the bond between each parent and child, the parent’s ability to care for the child, and any history of violence or substance abuse by the parents. If a parent wants to move the child to another locale, the court will consider the child’s ties to the community.
The parent who does not have custody of the child will typically have some visitation with the child. The visitation plan may be very detailed, outlining exactly how many days per month the noncustodial parent will have with the child. A “Reasonable Visitation Order” allows the custodial parent and noncustodial parent to work out a visitation schedule that works best for the family. If the child’s safety requires, the court may order that visitation with the noncustodial parent is supervised by the custodial parent or another party. Finally, the court may order no visitation for the noncustodial parent if visitation would be harmful for the child.
Child Support Determinations
Typically, the noncustodial parent is required to pay child support to the custodial parent. In California, child support is calculated according to state guidelines when parents cannot agree on a figure on their own. The guideline calculation will account for the income of both parents, the number of shared children, the visitation schedule, tax filing status of both parents, support received for other children, health insurance expenses, union dues, retirement contributions, and daycare and other health costs, amongst other factors.
Child Support Services
Once the California Superior Court has issued a child support order, the parent ordered to pay will make his or her child support payments through the California Department of Child Support Services. This department can also help a custodial parent obtain a court order for support, locate a nonpaying parent and modify an existing child support order.