Articles Posted in Parental Rights

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If a separating couple can agree on a parenting plan, the court will usually issue an order reflecting those terms.

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When a married couple with children decides to separate, one of the first steps they should take is to try and reach an agreement regarding how their children will be cared for after the separation occurs. In most cases, if the separating couple can agree on a parenting plan the court will issue a court order reflecting those terms.
The court will make a decision regarding custody and visitation when separating parents cannot reach an agreement.
When a separating couple cannot agree on a parenting plan, a judge will issue a decision regarding custody and visitation. This may take some time, because certain criteria will need to be met before a decision is issued. For example, separating parents are required to meet with a court appointed counselor. In some instances, the counselor will provide the judge with a recommendation regarding the appropriate child custody and visitation arrangement. In addition, the judge may order that some or all family members undergo psychological evaluations.

However, if there are immediate concerns that need to be addressed, the court will issue a temporary order. Circumstances that may require a temporary order include when one parent is moving to another jurisdiction and wants to take the children along or when parents cannot agree on what school their children should attend.
Before issuing a final custody and visitation determination, the judge will consider what arrangement is in the best interest of the child. This determination will be made based on the information gathered through evaluations and other information submitted to the court. In addition, if the children involved are, “of sufficient age and capacity to reason” the court may consider their wishes regarding custody and visitation.
Typically, custody will be awarded to one or both parents. However, if the court determines that awarding custody to either parent would be detrimental or harmful to the child, they may award custody to another adult. There are several types of custody that the court may consider:
Joint Legal Custody: This gives both parents the right and obligation to make significant decisions regarding their children’s health, welfare, and education.
Sole Legal Custody: This give one parent the right and obligation to make significant decisions regarding the children’s health, welfare, and education.
Joint Physical Custody: Children live with both parents, although not necessarily for equal amounts of time.
Sole Physical Custody: Children live with one parent and the other parent has visitation rights.

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Primary custody being sought by Usher Raymond’s ex-wife following the near drowning of Grammy winner Usher Raymond’s 5 year old son. Usher Raymond’s ex-wife Tameka Foster Raymond sought and was granted an emergency hearing in order to request custody of the former couple’s two children. The couple were married in 2007 and divorced two years later. Following a lengthy child custody battle, Mr. Raymond was awarded primary custody of both children.

The former couple’s son nearly drowned after being caught in a pool drain.

According to police reports, the couple’s son fell into the pool and was caught in the pool’s drain while under the supervision of Mr. Raymond’s aunt. A housekeeper tried to free the boy from the drain, but was unsuccessful. A contractor who was working on Mr. Raymond’s property was finally able to free Mr. Raymond’s son from the drain and perform CPR in order to revive the boy.

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The boy’s mother alleged that the children are not adequately supervised under Mr. Raymond’s care and that he does not keep her informed of who is taking care of the children when he is away.

Ms. Raymond’s request alleged that her son suffered from a near-death accident after being left unsupervised at the singer’s home while he was out of town. During the court hearing, which was held at the Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta, Georgia, both parents took the stand and testified before the presiding judge. Ms. Raymond testified that her ex-husband does not keep her informed of the children’s whereabouts and whose care they are in when Mr. Raymond is out of town. However, testimony revealed that Mr. Raymond’s aunt was sitting poolside watching both children play in the pool. In addition, Mr. Raymond was not out of town, but rather at a music studio just an exit away.

Ms. Raymond’s request was denied, but the Court advised Mr. Raymond to keep her informed of who is taking care of the children when he is away.

The Court denied Ms. Raymond’s request for temporary primary custody, as well as decision making authority. The Judge reasoned that the testimony and other evidence submitted to the Court did not suggest that anything could have been done to prevent the accident. However, the Judge did advise Mr. Raymond to keep his ex-wife abreast of his whereabouts and who is supervising the children when they are not in his care.

California courts allow individuals to make emergency requests regarding visitation and custody orders in certain circumstances.

California also allows individuals to make an emergency request to the court to issue new custody or visitation orders or to change existing custody or visitation orders. This may be done in situations in which circumstances have occurred or may occur, such that it is in the best interest of the child for the court to modify their existing custody or visitation arrangements.

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Surprised.jpgPresident Obama gave a Father’s Day speech in which he called for reforming child custody laws in order to allow fathers to become more engaged in their children’s lives. During divorce proceedings, fathers often feel disadvantaged when it comes to courts’ child custody determinations. These feelings are not always unwarranted.

Mothers receive primary custody in 70 percent of divorce cases.

Until the 1970’s, courts generally favored the mother when determining child custody arrangements. However, since then, the standard for determining child custody has been changed such that the ruling is based on what is in the best interest of the children. Despite this shift, the National Center for Health Statistics estimates that mothers are awarded primary custody of their children in approximately 70 percent of divorce cases.

Fathers often face hurdles such as, false accusations of child abuse or neglect. Moreover, during child custody proceedings, fathers often face false accusations of child abuse or neglect which they are forced to defend themselves against. Such allegations result in both emotional and financial strain. Defending against false accusations of child abuse or neglect can result in prolonged legal proceedings. In addition, fathers facing false accusations of child abuse or neglect are subject to limited and supervised visitation with their children.

In determining what is in the best interest of the child, courts consider which parent has the greatest involvement in the children’s day to day activities.

In order to determine what custody arrangement will allow the children to maintain the greatest level of normalcy during the divorce transition and thereafter. In addition to looking at whether a parent is financially capable of taking care of the children, courts will also look to see which parent had the greatest involvement in their children’s day to day activities.

Courts consider a number of factors when assessing each parent’s role in their children’s day to day activities and who served as the primary caretaker. These factors include: which parents helped the children get ready for school, which parents prepared meals for the children, which parent assisted the children with their homework, and which parent accompanied the children to their various activities.

California law requires couples to participate in mediation, providing an opportunity for parents to come up with their own agreement with the help of a mediator and their attorneys.

Under California law, parents are required to participate in mediation before a divorce proceeding can take place. This serves as an opportunity for parents to address child custody concerns and come up with a custody arrangement which they can both agree on with the help of a mediator, rather than having a custody arrangement imposed on their family by the courts.

Related Blog Posts:
The Pitfalls of Relying on News Sources for Divorce Guidance
Mental Illness Can Lead to Termination of Parental Rights

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Termination of Parental Rights and Mental Illness.jpgThe California State Bar Newsletter recently reported a child custody case concerning a parent with a mental illness. In February, a local court decided that “parental rights can be legally terminated when a parent poses a danger to his child, even if the danger results from a treatable mental disability.” This ruling could have significant impact for parents in California who are currently involved in custody disputes.

Implications of California Family Code § 7827 on Mental Disability

In this recent case, a married mother and father adopted a child. Before the parents were married, the father had a diagnosed mental illness but managed his condition with medication, which “allowed him to function normally.” After the parents adopted the child, the father stopped taking his medication, and his “mental condition deteriorated” so substantially that it “seriously impacted his relationship with his wife and child.” In fact, the negative effects of his mental state led his wife to file for a restraining order.

Ultimately, the mother filed a divorce petition, and the court awarded her sole custody of their minor child. In addition, the mother filed a petition to terminate the father’s parental rights because of his mental disability.

Under California Family Code section 7827, a parent’s rights can be terminated when he is classified as “mentally disabled” according to law. In order to be mentally disabled under the statute, the parent must “suffer a mental incapacity or disorder” that leaves him “unable to care for and control the child adequately.” According to the statute, a parent’s mental disability can only lead to the termination of his parental rights when he is both mentally disabled and is “likely to remain so in the foreseeable future.”

The court ruled against the father. In terminating the father’s parental rights, the court determined that the father had a mental disability that left him unable to adequately care for his child. In addition, the court reasoned that his disability was likely to prevent his adequate care for the child in the foreseeable future despite the possibility that he could be treated with medication. In other words, the court found that it was in the best interest of the child to terminate the father’s parental rights.

Do Mentally Disabled Parents Face a Courtroom Bias?

California is one of many states in which mental illness can lead to a loss of custody or the termination of parental rights. According to Mental Health America, on average, when parents with mental illness face custody issues in court, between 70 and 80 percent lose their parental rights. Further studies show that in families where one parent suffers from a mental illness, in more than two-thirds of those cases, the minor child is not being raised by the parent with the mental disability.

Last year, a USA Today article reported that certain barriers still exist for parents with mental illness, and that our legal system “is not adequately protecting the rights of parents” who suffer from certain disabilities. The article cited a report by the National Council on Disability, which indicated that parents with disabilities, both physical and mental, are “more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce,” and that they face substantial difficulties with biases in the courtroom.

Often, caseworkers worry about child abuse and neglect when minor children are being raised by a parent with a serious mental illness. However, certain disability advocates argue that instead of focusing on the “best interest of the child standard” alone, the courts should take into account that support for mentally disabled parents “may be all that’s needed to eliminate risks or lessen problems.”

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Moving.jpgWhen one parent wants to relocate with the minor child in a custody case, they will usually need either the consent of the other parent, or they will need a court order granting the move away orders request. This issue comes up often when one parent wants to move out-of-state for a new job or because they are getting remarried.

Issues that come up in a move away request are how the move would affect the minor child or children involved, how visitation and/or custody would be affected by the move, the reason for the move, and like all child custody matters, whether it is in the best interest of the child to make the move.

If a parent wants to move, it is not impossible to simply get the other parent to consent to the move. The law usually requires notification to the other parent of the proposed move before a court action is filed, and it is important to offer a reasonable visitation schedule to the other parent, since a move will usually make it more difficult for the other parent to maintain the current visitation schedule.

If the other parent does not consent to the move away request, then you will usually need to file a request with the court to be able to move with the minor child or children, unless a prior order already gives you the right to change residency without the consent of the other parent. In a court hearing, there are some presumptions that favor the parent with primary custody of a child. However, those presumptions can be overcome, as it is important to make a clear case to the court why the move will benefit the minor child or children.

One of the most important factors is which parent has been providing a stable environment for the child. Other important factors are comparing the schools – for example is the new school better for the child than the old school – and also community statistics. A judge is more likely to grant a move away request where the parent is moving somewhere with a lower crime rate and better schools, than the other way around.

An important caveat to remember is that a move away request is not automatic, even if you are the primary custodial parent. A request should be made with plenty of time to spare before the planned move; this is not something to request at the last minute. A court may not allow you to move with the child, which means you could still move, but custody would switch and the child would stay with the other parent.

Also, a move away court dispute can be very costly, so it makes better financial sense for parents to try to work out an arrangement that allows the move but maintains sufficient contact with the other parent. With modern technology, this is much easier, with parents able to video chat with their children over the internet from anywhere in the country, or even the world. Also, often the parent who doesn’t have as much visitation time during the school year after the move could have most of the time during summer and holidays.

Last caveat, do not try to move away just to get an advantage in a custody case. If you aren’t doing something with the child’s best interest in mind, that could really backfire in a custody case.

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Chess GameQ: What is an action for contempt against spouse and what is it used for?

You and your soon to be ex-spouse are going through a highly contested divorce proceeding. You believe that your spouse does not play by the rules, and your spouse believes that you are hiding assets. The unfortunate aspect of your divorce is that you have three young children, and there are child custody orders which grant both you and your spouse joint legal and joint physical custody of your children. In conjunction with those orders, you have a child visitation schedule with your three children on a week-on, week-off time-sharing schedule, with exchanges to take place every Sunday at 6:00pm.
It never fails that whenever there is a major sporting event on television, your spouse NEVER exchanges the children on time. In fact, your spouse is always hours late to the exchange, and you never can count on receiving the children on time. This last Sunday, October 28, 2012, the San Francisco Giants were playing the Detroit Tigers for the World Series. If the San Francisco Giants won the game, they would have been crowed the World Series Champion. Well, you knew, just as it always happens, that your spouse would not exchange the children on time. In fact, on this October 28, 2012, after the San Francisco Giant beat the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series, your spouse did not exchange the children but withheld them from you. As far as you were concerned, this was the last straw and you wanted to know how you could compel your spouse to abide to the rules set forth by your child custody court order.
The answer is simple. You have the right to file an action for contempt against your spouse. An action for contempt is a quasi-criminal matter. If found guilty, your spouse could actually be sent to jail or could instead receive a sentence requiring them to perform a significant amount of community service.
Actions for contempt are governed by California Code of Civil Procedure §1209 et al, which states that “(5) Disobedience of any lawful judgment, order, or process of the Court…” are contempts of the authority of the court. CCP §1209(5). Pursuant to CCP §1218(c), in any action where a party is found in contempt pursuant to the family code, “the court shall order the contemner to perform community service of up to 120 hours, or to be imprisoned up to 120 hours, for each count of contempt.” In addition, CCP §1218 prescribes a fine and/or punishment and provides that for each act of contempt the contemnor may be fined up to $1,000.00.

“The purpose of…civil contempt proceeding is not to punish but to secure future compliance with the orders of court…” Wilson v. Superior Court (1987) 194 Cal.App.3d 1259, 1275, citing Toussaint v. McCarthy (N.D.Cal 1984) 597 F.Supp. 1427, 1431.
In order for a party to be held in contempt of Court for disobedience of any lawful order, “the acts constituting the contempt must be clearly and specifically prohibited…” Brunton v. Superior Court (1942) 20 Cal.2d 202, 205. In fact, the “most basic premise in the law of contempt is that such punishment can only rest upon clear, intentional violation of a specific, narrowly drawn order.” Wilson v. Superior Court (1987) 194 Cal.App.3d 1259, 1273.

In your case, where your spouse has consistently disobeyed a Court order requiring exchanges of your children to take place each Sunday at 6:00pm, a Court may find that each instance of your spouse failing to return the children to you on time is a separate and distinct charge of contempt. Therefore, if your spouse has not returned the children on time on five different occasions, theoretically, your spouse could be held in contempt of five distinct charges. Under this scenario, your spouse could be sentenced to over 600 hours of community services, or fined up to $5,000.00.

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In parentage cases, also called paternity cases, the court issues orders that say who the child’s legal parents are. If you are targeted by a paternity suit, you may be wondering what your options are. If you are served with a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship by the other parent, you have 30 days to respond. It is very important to respond, because after 30 days, the court may grant the petition and legally find that you are the child’s father without a paternity test.

If paternity is established, you will expected to provide monetary child support until the child is emancipated. In California, emancipation occurs when the child is 18 and graduates high school, but could continue until the child is 19, if they are unmarried and attending high school full-time.

If parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question of parentage. The law assumes that the husband is the father and the wife is the mother, so paternity is assumed. However, if there is a question as to paternity, the assumption can be overturned.

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Children can be significantly affected by a divorce. Many divorcing parents today are employing written parenting plans to assist themselves and their children with the transition. A parenting plan is a written document that attempts to address many of the potential areas of contention between divorcing parents.

The major benefit with parenting plans is the consistency they offer. Whenever an issue arises between the parents, they can review the parenting plan to determine the proper course of action.

Just as every child, and every family, is unique, so should each parenting plan be unique. Your parenting plan should be tailored to your child’s needs. Those needs will change depending on your child’s age and personality. As your child grows and changes, the parenting plan should be updated accordingly. The plan should also take into account each parent’s schedule and parenting strengths.

Of course, in order to create a parenting plan, the parents must discuss and agree upon many different and diverse issues. Some of those issues will be difficult to agree on and many will be emotionally charged.

Child custody and child visitation should always be discussed at length in a parenting plan. There are many, many different kinds of child custody arrangements and just as many visitation scenarios. Some families prefer to change child custody over short periods of time, while others prefer for the children to reside with each parent for longer periods at a time.

One contentious issue between divorcing parents is transporting the children. When divorcing parents live close to one another, then parents must discuss whether the custodial parent will drop off the child or whether the not custodial parent will pick them up. The situation is more difficult when parents live farther away. In those situations, the child may need to take a train or plane in order to reach the other parent’s home. Until the child is older, they will likely need someone to accompany them, and the parenting plan should specify which parent that will be.

Parenting plans should also discuss the basic care of the child. Such basic care includes food, sleep, and activities. Recently, more and more families are adopting organic, vegetarian, or vegan diets. Parents may wish to include these dietary choices in a parenting plan, to ensure continuity for their child.

Parenting plans can cover any issue that parents wish to address. For example, parents may want to limit the amount or type of visitors that a custodial parent has while watching the child. Parents may also address the usage of cell phones, computers, and the Internet. The plan can also delve into the child’s involvement in sports and other extra-curricular activities. Such activities can be particularly difficult, because some parents may need to discuss how they will attend the child’s events. Finally, one particularly contentious issue that must be addressed is religion. Even when both parents are religiously compatible, the parenting plan should address when and where religious activities will occur, and how the child may participate.

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Sad ChildUnder California law, a child’s legal parents have rights and responsibilities to physical and legal custody. Child custody includes not only physically taking care of the child, but also authority over the child’s medical, religious, and educational care. Obviously, taking care of a child requires a lot of responsibility and can be very difficult. In some cases, parents are not able to take care of their child, and those parental rights are terminated. Termination of parental rights is not a subject to be taken lightly, and if those rights are voluntarily waived, it should not be done without considerable thought.

The termination of parental rights can occur either voluntarily or involuntarily, in a number of different circumstances. The termination of parental rights means that the parent is no longer considered the minor child’s legal parent. Therefore, the parent loses the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing and is released from his or her obligation to provide financial support.

The subject of terminating parental rights comes up most frequently with adoptions. In order for a stepparent to formally adopt a child, the corresponding biological parent must have their parental rights terminated, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. For example, where a stepfather would like to adopt the child, the biological father may either consent to the adoption and voluntarily waive his rights, or the mother and stepfather may ask the Court to determine that the biological father is unfit, thereby terminating his parental rights without consent. In California, failure to pay child support may be grounds for involuntarily terminating parental rights in a stepparent adoption. Similarly, both parents may choose to waive their parental rights to the child, where they will either become a ward of the state or will be adopted by a new family.

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child (Cia de Photo).jpgIn the event that unmarried parents separate, both parties are faced with problematic legal issues. These issues hinge upon whether the paternity has been established. Paternity refers to the legal system recognizing a person as a child’s biological parent. As our experienced Santa Rosa family law attorneys know, the male figure in the relationship is not presumed to be the father if the couple is unwed and a child is born from the union.

Under California law, once paternity is established, parents assume the full rights and responsibilities involving their children. As discussed in a previous post, unmarried parents can establish paternity through the execution of a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity, or filing a Paternity Case with the court. If paternity is not established, each parent faces serious legal issues. The mother has no rights to recover child support from the father, and the father cannot seek custody or visitation rights with his child.

Not having the right to child support is a problem especially for unwed mothers, particularly those with low-paying jobs. In many cases a father may have begun paying child support. However, for a variety of reasons–perhaps because the relationship went the south–the father may stop paying. In those situations, paternity still must be shown to get a court order forcing payment of the support.

Although they cannot seek child support from the father without proving paternity, unwed mothers have other options for financial assistance. One such option is seeking financial assistance from the county. When the county disburses financial aid to the unwed mother, this does not relieve the father from providing financial support. The county is required to seek welfare reimbursement from the father by filing a lawsuit. To obtain reimbursement, the county must first acquire a court finding of paternity, establishing that the father is the biological parent.

Unmarried fathers may also face issues regarding their children upon separation from the mother. One of the major issues that unmarried fathers face is in regards to child custody and visitation rights. Oftentimes, unmarried couples agree upon a child visitation schedule without involving the court. In the event that the mother establishes that the schedule is no longer working, the father has no enforceable rights to visit the child unless he has a court order. Obtaining a court order will protect the father’s custody and/or visitation rights with the child.

As illustrated, establishing paternity is extremely important to enforcing certain rights for both the mother and father. Without the declaration that the father is in fact the biological parent of the child, both parents are in a position to lose certain rights that are presumed when paternity has been established. Due to the serious financial and emotional harm, it is vital for unmarried parents contemplating separation to seek legal advice from our Santa Rosa family law attorneys.

See Related Blog Posts:
California Paternity Law Attorney
What Rights Do You Have if You are Not Married and Your Relationship Ends?

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