Nobody likes to battle it out in court, especially when the subject of the dispute, child custody, is an issue that is fraught with intense emotions. Fortunately, California offers a more amicable way to settle child custody issues – the custody agreement. A custody agreement is negotiated between the two parents, sometimes alone and sometimes with the assistance of a third-party mediator.
The “Best Interests of the Child” Standard
The guiding principle behind California family court child custody decisions is the “best interests of the child.” This principle supersedes even parental rights, and a family court will reject a custody agreement if its terms do not reflect the child’s best interests. Although the child’s “best interests” do not always coincide with what the child wants, the child’s own preference is given greater weight as he gets older.
Child Custody Mediation
In contentious custody disputes, the parents might not be able to reach an agreement on their own, and yet both parents might still prefer to reach some kind of agreement rather than rely on the court to issue a child custody order. In cases like this, California offers mediation services that are designed to help the parents reach an agreement that they might otherwise find themselves unable to reach.
A mediator is a third party, trained in the art of mediation, whose job it is to help the parties reach an agreement. A mediator can propose solutions to various issues, but he cannot impose an agreement on the parties. If the parties do sign an agreement, it will become binding as soon as the court approves it. If the court doesn’t approve it, either another agreement will have to be negotiated or the child custody issue will have to be resolved by court order.
Child Custody Agreements
A child custody agreement must be created in written form, and it must be signed by both parents – a handshake is simply not enough. Although it is possible for the parents to draft an agreement themselves, this is not a particularly wise course of action because:
Innocent-sounding wording could result in unintended legal consequences (that might escape even the scrutiny of a busy family court judge); and
A custody agreement might fail to address certain contingencies that a lawyer would think of but the parties didn’t anticipate. Suppose, for example, that one parent is offered a job out of state six months after the agreement is signed. A well-drafted custody agreement might be flexible enough to take this circumstance into account, and it could save the parties the trouble of going back to court for a modified custody order.
Remember to take the terms of a child custody agreement very, very seriously. Violating the terms of a confirmed and effective child custody agreement could put you in contempt of court – an offense that might even result in jail time.
Contact CKB Vienna Today
If you are involved in a child custody dispute or if you anticipate such a dispute arising, call CKB Vienna at 909-980-1040 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with us. We take cases for clients in Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and Riverside County.