Unfortunately, we find that children are a choice weapon for hurting the other party by withholding the child. It is easy enough to understand that if your marriage has fallen apart, and you are wounded, you see your ex as Public Enemy No. 1. How hard it is to let your most precious, your child, go off with Public Enemy No. 1.
Judge Thomas Murphy used to say, “Parents are like eyes. If you lose one, it will never be replaced.” California law encourages the principle that the children should have frequent and continuing contact with each parent. That being said, sometimes there are very good reasons to limit a child’s contact with one parent or the other. Such reasons would include neglect of a very small child to a degree that the child is endangered. Another reason is a history of abuse. Courts tend to be very sensitive and protective about children’s best interests when they make orders for custody and visitation.
Who should make decisions about custody and visitation? Ideally the parents who know the child best, and who love the child, should make those decisions. The Los Angeles Superior Court requires parties to talk to a mediator about these issues before a judge will hear their case, in an attempt to reach a settlement. When they cannot agree however, the Court may turn to an expert to interview each party and the children and make recommendations to the Court based on the evaluation.
Many clients ask me whether children get to decide for themselves where they want to live. No, that’s exclusively up to the Court. However the Court will take a child’s expressed preference into consideration in making its orders, bearing in mind the child’s age and maturity, as well as the child’s reasons.
Each parent’s time with the child includes sharing national and religious holidays and school vacations. These times can be spelled out in detail in the court’s orders, or if the parties can agree on these things without the need for a court order, it can be left open.
My goal is to try to help parties resolve their issues amicably if possible, because it puts the least stress on all parties. When this is not feasible, I need to paint an accurate and scintillating portrait of my client for the court, so that the judge will have enough information to base the right decision in our favor. To this end, I lean heavily on my background in psychology.