Child Custody Arrangements Agreed Upon By Parents Are Not Binding on California Courts

Parents grappling with child custody issues face many challenges and often have differing opinions as to what is best for their child. Typically, they will both want to be a significant part of their child’s life, in terms of living arrangements, significant decision-making, and day-to-day activities. In an ideal situation, the parents will agree to most, if not all of the main elements, and the whole family can move on in their new lives. But interestingly enough, even if parents do agree to a child custody arrangement, a family law judge in San Diego is not required to uphold that agreement. Under California law, in all custody and visitation cases, the parties must attend mandatory mediation prior to the court making any custody and visitation orders with the exception of emergency circumstances.

Despite the fact that a judge must essentially “sign off” on a custody arrangement, parents can devise a “parenting plan,” also called a “custody and visitation agreement.” The parenting plan is a written agreement detailing two main issues: 1) time-share: a schedule for when the children will be with each parent; and 2) decision-making: how the parents will make decisions about the health, welfare and education of the children. Parents may try to include such information in a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, but to no avail. Judges are not required to uphold those custody arrangements. That is not to say that the items agreed upon by the parents will not be acceptable; instead, the court has the final say about what is in the best interests of the child.

In a recent divorce making national, if not international, news, Rupert and Wendi Murdoch are ending their marriage. In early reports, it appeared that the couple was hoping to settle matters in a quiet and amicable manner. But things seem to have taken a turn, as Wendi Murdoch changed her counsel, choosing a New York attorney who is known to handle cases involving women divorcing wealthy businessmen. As part of the news coverage, reports indicate that the couple has a prenuptial agreement and two postnuptial agreements that delineate the separation of assets should the couple ultimately divorce. With this in mind, there are not too many issues remaining for the couple to negotiate.

Significantly, however, the Murdochs have two daughters, ages 11 and 9, and any pre- or post-nuptial agreements concerning their care and living arrangements are not binding on the courts. Because of this, such custody arrangements are rarely part of a prenuptial agreement.

If parents decide to work out a parenting plan for approval by the court, there are several issues to include in the agreement. Among the most basic, elemental concerns are items such as 1) physical custody: where the children will live and how they will spend their time, and 2) legal custody: the person who makes important decisions about the children (could be jointly held, depending on the arrangement).

There are many issues to consider and address. Each step is simpler and clearer with the help of an experienced family law attorney. To protect your rights and to achieve the best arrangement for your family, it is important to contact a local attorney.

Parents with questions about child custody matters are encouraged to contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC . Mr. Doppelt is a knowledgeable family law attorney with more than 20 years of experience representing parents in Southern California. Doppelt and Forney, APLC serves clients in Linda Vista, Encinitas, Scripps Ranch, San Diego, and throughout Southern California. For a consultation with a dedicated family lawyer, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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