Orange County Child Custody & Visitation Lawyer

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Orange County Child Custody & Visitation Lawyer

Child Custody Attorney in Orange County, CA

Orange County Child Custody & Visitation Lawyer

The family court system of Orange County has a legal responsibility to ensure that every ruling delivered by the family court preserves the needs and best interests of the children affected by those rulings. Child custody disputes are some of the most contentious family law matters that pass through the Orange County family court system. Both married and unmarried parents who must resolve custody cases face many challenges during these complex cases. The fact that the result of a custody dispute is entirely outside the control of both parents can be both frustrating and demoralizing, and it’s easy for a parent to sometimes feel as though the system is working against them.

If you are preparing for a custody dispute in Orange County, CA, it’s vital to seek legal counsel from an experienced Orange County child custody lawyer as soon as possible. Your legal representative can help you approach this complicated case with a clearer understanding of its legal elements and greater peace of mind. Whether you are concerned about securing the maximum amount of custody possible or simply preventing your child from being subjected to a stressful and potentially damaging custody order, it’s vital to have legal counsel you can trust as you prepare for what could be one of the most emotionally stressful experiences of your life.

Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, has extensive experience representing parents in the Orange County family court system. We understand the emotional stress that any custody determination can cause and that many parents do not have any formal legal training or experience. It’s our goal to help our clients make the most robust possible case for custody and to navigate their legal proceedings as efficiently as possible.

Why Do I Need an Orange County Child Custody Lawyer?

As you prepare for your custody determination, whether it’s part of a more significant divorce case or a standalone issue between you and your child’s co-parent, it’s essential to acknowledge the value of experienced legal representation. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe they can formulate compelling arguments for custody disputes on their own, that no one knows their child and their situation better than they do, and that hiring an attorney would be an extra expense on top of an already challenging situation.

You are not only more likely to successfully obtain the custody rights you seek with the help of an attorney but also more likely to have a much easier time managing the emotional stress of the situation. Your legal team will be available to you for support and advice as your case progresses. They can help you gather any evidence or references you may need to establish yourself as a fit and reliable parent. If you must later request changes to your custody or child support terms, your attorney can guide you through the required proceedings. Ultimately, working with an experienced Orange County child custody attorney makes every aspect of a custody determination much easier to handle confidently.

How Is Custody Determined in Divorce?

Most child custody disputes that unfold in the Orange County family court system are components of larger divorce cases. When married parents divorce, child custody determination is likely to be the most contentious issue included in their divorce case. Many divorcing couples throughout California opt for alternative dispute resolution to save time and money on their divorce. This option typically allows for more influence over the outcome of a divorce case. However, it is not possible for divorcing parents to privately negotiate child custody terms. The court has a legal duty to ensure the custody order suits the best interests of the couple’s children.

Whether a divorcing couple settles the majority of their divorce-related issues privately or takes their divorce to court, the child custody component of their divorce case must unfold before a family court judge. The judge is responsible for evaluating numerous factors in the case before delivering a final ruling on the matter. Some of the factors the judge must review in a divorce with a custody dispute include:

  • The work schedule of each parent.
  • The income of each parent.
  • The age and medical condition of each parent.
  • The parents’ intended living arrangements following the completion of their divorce.
  • The proximity of each parent’s residence to their children’s schools, daycare centers, health care providers, and extended relatives.
  • The bond between each parent and their children.
  • The criminal history of each parent, particularly if one or both parents have records of violent criminal offenses, domestic violence, or child abuse of any kind.
  • Each parent’s willingness to seek a custody order that suits the child’s best interests, not their personal preferences.
  • Each parent’s willingness to cooperate with the other parent for their children’s needs.
  • The child’s preferences, if the child is old enough to coherently convey them to the judge.

Every custody case will involve unique issues, and it can be challenging to determine the best possible approach to a complex custody dispute in a divorce. When you choose Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, to represent you in a multifaceted divorce case, we can apply the full scope of our resources and experience to your case and help you understand every facet of your proceedings. If there are any confusing or unclear issues to you, we’ll walk you through them and help you understand the finer points of your case. Our goal is to help you achieve the custody terms you prefer so long as your preferences align with your child’s best interests.

How Is Custody Determined for Unmarried Parents?

Unmarried parents may attempt to raise their child as a couple, but eventually, their relationship may falter, and the couple will decide to end it. Some parents in this situation will strive to maintain a child care schedule without a court order, but this is rarely viable, and disputes can easily arise when there is no legally enforceable family court order pertaining to custody and support for the unmarried couple’s children.

Custody disputes between unmarried parents unfold similarly to custody disputes between divorcing parents. However, unmarried couples will not need to resolve issues that must be addressed in divorces, such as property division and alimony. However, unmarried couples typically face the added challenge of legally determining paternity. When a married couple has a child, the husband is presumed to be the child’s biological father. However, an unmarried father must assume legal responsibility for the mother’s child. If an alleged father refuses to accept responsibility for a child, or if there is a reason for him to believe that he isn’t the father of the child, a paternity dispute is likely to ensue.

Establishing paternity is perhaps the most critical component of a custody dispute between unmarried parents. Accurately establishing paternity is vital for both parents, and the paternity testing process is typically straightforward and swift. If a presumptive father accepts responsibility for a child without legally establishing biological paternity, he could unintentionally accept financial responsibility for a child who is not his own.

What to Expect During a Custody Determination in Orange County

Custody battles can be highly distressing for parents. It’s easy to feel disempowered by the process when you realize that the judge handling your case has the final say on the next several years of your life, and the thought of losing time with a child can be devastating for any parent. If you are preparing for a custody determination in Orange County, a child custody lawyer is the best asset to have on your side.

Your attorney will assist you in making the most robust possible case for custody. You will need to provide various documents to the court. For example, it may be necessary to secure character references from individuals who are willing to testify about your fitness as a parent. If your custody determination is part of a larger divorce case, you will need to rely on your attorney to help you with various aspects of your case, such as your financial disclosure statement that will influence property division and child support determination.

If your child custody determination is part of a more significant divorce case, it’s possible to resolve other divorce-related issues through alternative dispute resolution, or a couple may need to litigate the entirety of their divorce. If you and your spouse opt for a private settlement, it’s possible to negotiate a parenting plan that includes your mutually preferred custody terms, but you must submit this plan to a family court judge for a final review and approval. If your case unfolds in litigation in its entirety, the judge handling the case will evaluate the aforementioned factors to determine what sort of custody arrangement would best suit your child’s needs.

Most Common Disputes Regarding Custody Orders

Once parents have their custody orders, they need to follow the instructions included therein to the letter. A custody order will typically dictate how much time a child spends with each parent, how the parents must handle pickups and drop-offs between one another and both parents’ responsibilities regarding communication. When parents share legal custody, they must collaborate and discuss significant decisions for their children. If one parent obtains sole legal custody, that parent is responsible for making such decisions independently.

Disputes regarding standing child custody orders can arise for many reasons. A parent may allege that a custodial parent has failed to uphold their responsibilities under the custody order or even endangered their child in some way. It’s also possible for a dispute to arise if a parent refuses to allow the other parent to exercise their custody or visitation rights. If a parent consistently fails to hold up their end of a custody order, or if they intentionally violate a custody order, they could face severe penalties.

Penalties for Defying Custody Orders

When parents violate their custody orders, they face a wide range of penalties depending on the severity of their actions. One of the most common penalties is contempt of court. When a parent files contempt proceedings against their co-parent for violation of their custody order, the judge handling the case must assess the nature and severity of the violation to determine an appropriate penalty. For example, if a parent routinely fails to drop off their child for visitation time with the other parent and makes no effort to communicate scheduling issues or seems to be intentionally violating the terms of their physical custody arrangement, the other parent may file contempt proceedings to ask the court to enforce the order.

Once contempt proceedings are filed, the court will notify the parent in contempt that they must abide by the terms of the custody order or face penalties. In some cases, criminal penalties are possible, and a judge may revoke or reduce the parent’s custody rights if their behavior is serious enough to pose any perceivable threat to the safety and well-being of the child in question. Some of the most common issues that can lead to contempt proceedings include:

  • Intentional interference with a parent’s ability to communicate with their child. Most custody orders will outline each parent’s rights and responsibilities regarding communication between parents and children.
  • Intentional interference with a parent’s ability to exercise their custody or visitation rights. Both parents must adhere to the terms of their custody order, even if they disagree with the terms.
  • Refusal to allow a parent to exercise custody rights due to nonpayment of child support. If a parent required to pay child support fails to do so correctly, the other parent must go through the appropriate legal channels to address the issue; they cannot penalize the nonpaying parent of their own volition.

Whether you believe your child’s other parent poses a danger to your child or that your co-parent has unfairly and illegally denied you the ability to exercise your custody rights, it’s vital to consult your Orange County child custody lawyer as soon as you encounter any problem with your custody order.

Sometimes life can present unexpected challenges and emergencies that prevent parents from fully adhering to their custody terms. For example, if a parent is scheduled to have custody time with their child but suffers a severe injury in a car accident, they may need a temporary adjustment to their custody order to reflect this unexpected problem. Parents can usually resolve one-off emergencies and unexpected schedule conflicts privately, but some parents will take things too far and outright defy custody orders in illegal ways.

If a parent intentionally refuses to follow a custody order and endangers their child, or if they cause any harm to the child, the parent will likely face criminal prosecution and involuntary termination of their parental rights. They will still be responsible for paying child support, but they will lose physical custody or visitation rights previously granted by the custody order. It is very unlikely for any parent who has their parental rights involuntarily terminated to regain them in any measure in the future.

Can I Change a Custody Order in Orange County?

When you have encountered a problem with your custody order, or if your life recently changed in a way that materially influences your standing custody order, you should not simply ignore the order and risk the associated penalties. The Orange County family court system acknowledges that life often presents unexpected problems, some of which can prevent a parent from adhering to the terms of their custody order temporarily or permanently. Therefore, parents must use the modification system to seek changes to their custody orders when such incidents occur.

A modification is a relatively straightforward legal mechanism in the family court system. For example, when a parent needs changes to their standing custody order, they must file a petition for modification with the Orange County family court. This petition should include a detailed description of the sought changes and the petitioner’s explanation of why the changes are both necessary and reasonable. Typically, the reason for the petition must be an issue entirely outside the petitioner’s control. A few examples of situations that would likely justify modifications of a custody order include:

  • Job loss. You could seek changes to your custody or child support terms if you lost your job due to forces beyond your control. However, you cannot quit your job and claim you can no longer afford child support.
  • Medical emergencies. If you recently suffered a significant injury or developed a critical medical condition that prevents you from exercising your parental responsibilities, you can request reasonable changes to your custody order to reflect these changes.
  • Repeated order violations. A parent can file contempt proceedings against their co-parent in response to repeated violations of the custody agreement, but they may also petition for new custody terms that reflect the other parent’s recent behavior.
  • Changes in the child’s needs. If a child suffers an injury, develops a medical condition, or experiences any other notable change in their life that materially influences the standing custody order, a custodial parent can request necessary changes to the order that will more accurately address the child’s new needs.

If you are unsure whether recent events justify a petition for modification, it’s essential to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Your Orange County child custody lawyer can help you draft your petition for modification and submit it to the court. Once the court receives your petition, a judge will review it, and if they believe it to be a reasonable request, a hearing is scheduled. You and your co-parent will have the opportunity to speak on the issue. Both parties can present evidence and testify for the judge’s consideration. The judge can implement the changes as requested or with slight adjustments as the judge deems fit. The other parent could potentially agree to the requested changes without contest, or they may vehemently oppose the requested change.

Modification proceedings typically only require one or two hearings, but contested modification petitions can take longer to resolve. If a judge approves a petition for modification, the approval typically has immediate effect. However, it’s possible for parents with custody orders to file multiple petitions for modification over time as their needs, circumstances, and child’s interests change.

What to Expect From Your Orange County Child Custody Lawyer

Facing any custody dispute can be emotionally taxing for a parent. It’s natural to have many questions when confronting this type of family law matter. Whether your custody battle is part of a divorce or a standalone issue between you and your co-parent, you need legal representation you can trust to help you navigate your case proceedings and secure appropriate custody terms for your children.

Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, has helped many parents in Orange County, CA, navigate complex child custody cases, from initial determinations to relocation disputes and modification proceedings. We understand the emotional challenges these cases often present and the uncertainty that many parents face as they begin their custody battles. So, when you choose our firm to represent you in a custody dispute, we’ll provide meticulous legal counsel that allows you to approach the situation with confidence and peace of mind.

Our firm has years of experience with complex divorce cases and custody disputes between unmarried parents. We recognize that child custody and visitation are frequently the most important issues when couples separate, and we will aggressively protect your parental rights. The attorneys at Quinn & Dworakowski will help resolve all issues concerning physical and legal custody of your child, so that you and your child may get back to some form of normalcy as quickly as possible.

FAQs About Child Custody & Visitation Law in Orange County, CA

WHAT DOES CHILD CUSTODY MEAN?

There are two types of custody: Legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves the decisional power of the parents as it pertains to issues of education, health, religion, sports, etc. In most cases, both parents have shared legal custody, and through discussion arrive at a consensus regarding these issues. When consensus is not possible, however, then court intervention may be necessary. The custody attorneys at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, have the knowledge and expertise to prepare and present the best case to convince the judge your position is the correct position.

Physical custody means just that, having actual physical custody of your child or children. In California, the starting presumption is that both parents share physical custody equally in order to maximize the time the child spends with each parent. But the reality is that often this is not in the best interest of the child. The parents’ work schedules, the child’s school schedule, the child’s age, the location of the parents’ residences, the child’s bond with one parent over another’s, these are only a few of the factors considered when deciding physical custody. Here again, the custody attorneys at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, can prepare the best case to ensure you have as much physical custody of your child or children as you want.

CAN A MAN GET CUSTODY OF HIS CHILD?

Absolutely! In California, there is no presumption that mothers are better caregivers and should therefore have primary custody of the children. This being said, there are many factors in determining physical custody of a child. The parents’ work schedules, the child’s school schedule, the child’s age, the location of the parents’ residences, the child’s bond with one parent over another’s, these are only a few of the factors considered when deciding physical custody. The custody attorneys at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, are knowledgeable and experienced in custody law and can prepare the best case to ensure you have as much physical custody of your child or children as you wish to have.

WHY DOES MOTHER GET CUSTODY?

Mother does not necessarily get custody. In fact, frequently both parents share physical custody of the children equally. Mothers will often have primary custody of the child when the child is very young. This happens because a mother will often stay home following a pregnancy and is the child’s primary caregiver. Consequently, if a dissolution happens in the few years following the birth of the child, the mother will frequently be awarded primary physical custody of the child, while fathers will have visitation schedules, where they have custody of the child frequently, but for shorter periods of times, to minimize any anxiety a child may experience as a result of being separated from the primary caregiver. As the child gets older, visitation increases and eventually, both parties get to a shared custody schedule. The custody attorneys at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, are knowledgeable and experienced in custody law and can prepare the best case to ensure you have as much physical custody of your child or children as you wish to have.

HOW DOES CUSTODY WORK WITH UNMARRIED PARENTS?

The major difference regarding custody when the parents are unmarried is that paternity is not presumed. In California, when a child is born during marriage, the husband is presumed to be the father of the child. Conversely, when a child is born out of wedlock, paternity is not presumed and must be established via a parentage action. This is true regardless of the number of years the father has been caring for the child. Keep in mind that parentage is rarely contested and therefore easily ascertained. In those rare instances where paternity is challenged, DNA testing may be ordered by the court to determine paternity.

IS IT KIDNAPPING IF THERE IS NO CUSTODY ORDER?

Probably not. Usually, a parent who takes a child without the consent and knowledge of the other parent is committing an abduction, not a kidnapping. A parent taking a child away from the other parent without their knowledge and consent can potentially lead to criminal charges, and at the very least will draw the ire of the court for the apparent refusal to co-parent.

CAN A PARENT LEAVE THE STATE WITH A CHILD WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF THE OTHER PARENT?

It depends. Prior to the filing and service of a Summons and Petition for Dissolution or a Petition for Parentage, a parent can likely leave the state without the consent of the other parent. Once a proper summons and petition have been filed AND served, however, there are standard family law restraining orders that apply, restraining any party from removing the child or children from the state without written approval from the other party or court order. Keep in mind, however, that a parent removing a child from the state without the knowledge and consent of the other parent can potentially face criminal charges for child abduction and at the very least will draw the ire of the court for the apparent refusal to co-parent. If you are considering such actions or believe your spouse is considering such action, the custody attorneys at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, are experienced in both criminal and family law and can advise you of the potential courses of action in your particular case.

CAN A CUSTODIAL PARENT DENY VISITATION RIGHTS?

Not legally. A parent has no legal authority to deny the other parent visitation. Only a judge, who issues a court order, can legally grant or deny visitation. At Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, we have great experience in obtaining custody orders, as well as modification of existing orders.

WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS AS A FATHER PAYING CHILD SUPPORT?

As a father paying child support, you have the right to a child support order that is reflective of the financial situation of both you and the other parent. In California, child support is very case specific and is determined based upon the incomes of the parents and their time shared with the child. At Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, we seek to obtain for you the shared time you want and to which you are entitled. We also ensure that the other parent is both employed and earning a reasonable wage based on their situation. While parties are free to pay any support above the guideline, our support attorneys are aggressive in ensuring that our clients are only ordered to pay that which is required under law.

CAN A CHILD REFUSE TO VISIT A CUSTODIAL PARENT?

Legally, a child cannot refuse to visit a custodial parent without a court order. In practice, particularly as children enter adolescence, it may become challenging to enforce a court’s custodial order when the child refuses to visit the parent. While it is tempting to simply abide by the child’s wishes and deny the other parent the right of visitation, the better practice is to seek an order from the court modifying custody. At Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, our custody lawyers understand the intricacies involved and the local practices in modifying custody orders.

DOES A CHILD HAVE A SAY IN VISITATION?

Whether a child gets a say in custody and visitation will depend on the circumstances. Generally, for children under the age of 12, the court will base its custody determinations on what is in the “best interest of the child,” regardless of the child’s particular desires. As the child enters adolescence, the court will consider the child’s desires in its analysis. Custody issues are extremely case specific. The custody lawyers at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, understand that each case is unique and there are many factors that will influence a court’s custody determination. This is why every custody case begins with a comprehensive evaluation of the particular circumstances surrounding your case.

CAN GRANDPARENTS TAKE PARENTS TO COURT FOR VISITATION?

Yes, under certain circumstances, grandparents have standing to petition the court for visitation. For instance, if the parents are unmarried or separated, or one of the parents cannot be found for more than a month, or the child was adopted by a stepparent, or the child does not live with either parent, or one of the parents is incarcerated or institutionalized, then a grandparent can seek a visitation order from the court. Additionally, if one of the parents is deceased or joins in the petition with the grandparent, it is possible to obtain a visitation order. Please note that if the family unit is intact and both parents agree that the court should not grant visitation, the court will presume that visitation is not in the child’s best interests and deny any visitation request. At Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, we represent grandparents who seek visitation, as well as parents who wish to contest the granting of such an order.

WHO IS CONSIDERED AN “UNFIT PARENT?”

Many factors are considered prior to a court determining whether a parent is “unfit.” For instance, certain behaviors will have a serious impact on a court’s determination of “fitness,” such as child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, as well as psychiatric illnesses. Risky or unusual social behaviors that could negatively impact the child are also considered. For example, driving recklessly or while under the influence with the child in the car would weigh greatly in the court’s determination. In addition to the more serious risk factors, a court will also look closely at a parent’s understanding of the child’s needs, and the manner in which they are met. For example, is the parent sufficiently and appropriately responsive and sensitive to the child’s needs? What does history show regarding the parent’s abilities in child care? Is the parent promoting co-parenting principles alienating the relationship with other parents? In many circumstances, the court will appoint a “730 expert,” usually a child psychologist, to investigate the parties, and assist in the custodial determination. These “730 experts” carry a lot of weight with the court and must therefore be carefully selected by the parent and their attorney. The custody lawyers at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, have more than forty years of experience in the Orange County courts and can help you with your child custody dispute.

Hopefully, these questions and our provided answers clarify some of your concerns about your impending custody determination. It’s natural to have many questions about the child custody determination process and what you can do to prepare for it. Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, has the resources and experience you need on your side as you enter a custody case in Orange County, CA. We have extensive experience in the Orange County family court system, and we know how local judges handle custody cases.

Contact Our Orange County Child Custody & Visitation Attorneys Today

When you are faced with emotional distress and uncertainty regarding an impending custody dispute, it’s essential to work with an Orange County child custody lawyer capable of handling the unique legal issues your case entails. If you are ready to discuss your case with an experienced team of Orange County child custody attorneys, contact Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, today to schedule your consultation with our firm.

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