I have many clients that come into my office and say they “want custody” of their children. What does this mean in a California divorce (or paternity) case?
In California, there are two kinds of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody involves where your children live. If they live with both parents, as in most cases, then custody is shared jointly. In the case where one parent is not involved at all with the children or has domestic violence or substance abuse issues, then one parent may have sole physical custody. The norm is shared joint physical custody. Legal custody involves which parent has the right to make the decisions about your children’s health, education and welfare. Again, this is generally joint except in the instances mentioned above.
What most clients are talking about when they say they want custody is the parenting plan. This is the schedule of when your children will be with which parent. I am often asked what a “normal” schedule is, but the reality is that schedules vary as much people do! The important part of creating a parenting plan is to keep your children’s needs in the forefront of your mind. They are adjusting, too, and the transition is difficult on everyone.
Second, be reasonable. You may despise your ex, but that doesn’t give you the right to cut him or her out of your children’s lives – they remain a parent even though they are no longer your spouse. A judge will frown on an unreasonable request made for no good reason.
Third, pick your battles. Remember the adjustment period? Well, that often translates into dropping grades, acting out, misbehaving, sleep problems, and overall a difficult mood or behavior from your children. This doesn’t mean it’s all your ex’s fault, and it’s not your fault, either. It’s just a natural part of the process. Now, if your spouse is acting inappropriately, such as not properly feeding or dressing/grooming your children before school or harming them, then you should see the judge immediately. But normal acting out in a divorce is, well, normal.
Finally, remember that it will pass. At some point the custody fight will end and you will settle into a routine. I mean, you can fight until your children are 18, but do you really have the time, money and energy to do that to yourself and to your children? The sooner you can get to that normalcy, the better for everyone.