Considering Custody Options

Parent Q&A

  • Custody of toddler

    (3 replies)

    Going divorce process. We have 20 months old. Dad wants 50/50, I am a stay at home mom. What are the chance that will happen? Is it healthy for the child this young age? Or it would be better to work toward 50/50 by certain age? 

    RE: Custody of toddler ()

    that's not reasonable. no. it's not healthy for that baby. 

    RE: Custody of toddler ()

    California courts generally give 50/50 as long as parents do not have major issues (substance abuse, etc.)  You are probably going to have to go back to work. But if both parents agree, then you can vary the custody.  

    It is healthy for kids to have both parents in their lives.

    RE: Custody of toddler ()

    California courts are very much into 50-50. Also- you might have to return to work post divorce which means 50-50 could work well. It is harder than you might think raising a toddler without a partner- good luck!

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Want to divorce and move out of state with baby

Jan 2008

I used to live in Arizona but moved to Bay area last September to get married. Now I have 2 month-old-baby. Just before the delivery, I discovered my husband had been living with his girlfriend and her step-son since 2001. He did not tell me about this until I moved in. After many fights, he wants to get back with her. I also want to get a divorce and go back to Arizona where I left my 10-year-old son from the previous marriage (He was about to move to Bay area to live with us, but I no longer want him to come here because he would be happier staying in Arizona. Also, I have no reason I want to be here.)

The following are some reasons why I need to go back. I'm not trying to deprive my husband of his opportunity to see our baby. I would do anything to accomodate so he can visit Arizona as often as possible to see our baby. 1) I cannot maintain the quality level of life if I live in this area, while I can live easily in the best school district there. 2) I need to be close to my son because otherwise he will forget the second language which his father doesn't speak. 3) If I go back now, there is a job position (teaching at college) 4) There are many people who can mentally/physically support me, while I don't know anyone here.

Could anyone tell me what the likelihood that I can move back to Arizona with this baby (whether I can get a permission from the judge) would be. Thank you.

It's best to have permission from the father and to use mediation to work out parenting schedules and child support. If that won't work then, you need to get a lawyer. It's really hard to move out of state, but it can be done if you act according to your child's best interest and put your needs secondary. Your previous decision to leave your son in Arizona may play a role in the courts eyes, so keep that in mind. I moved from CO to CA and the process took a year to get approval for my daughter to come with me. So, make sure to stick with your most solid points about leaving, which may mean rearranging them a bit, see below:

1) If I go back now, there is a job waiting for me (teaching at college) that will allow me to support my children. - This is #1 most important priority! If you start securing your basic needs in Arizona then you will be able to show the court that you are prepared to make the move and have thought of everything.

2) I cannot maintain the quality level of life if I live in this area as a single mother, while I can live modestly in the best school district in Arizona. - This is a very strong point for your arguement and will help the court see that you are looking out for your children's futures.

3) In Arizona there are many people who can mentally/physically support me, while I don't know anyone here. - This is important as well. It will show the court that you are isolated if you stay here and are unlikely to make a go at life here in CA. You need support as a single mother and the court knows that.

4) I need to be close to my son because otherwise he will forget the second language which his father doesn't speak. - If this has anything to do with the child you left behind, it is probably not necessary to bring into the equation. You already chose to leave your son in Arizona. Focus on getting home by telling them why you need to protect the interests of your new child. Lisa

You should contact family court and/or an attorney for direction. This is a legal matter that you should be very careful about addressing. Make sure you carefully document dates and details of incidents that have led to the separation and your desire to return to Arizona. Good luck to you and your children

Never married, do we need a formal custody agreement?

April 2007

My 7 year-old daughter's father and I were never married, so when we broke up over 6 years ago, we never made a formal custody arrangement. I worry that we could end up in hot water without this legal agreement. Am I right? Can anyone recommend a lawyer to advise me?

An ongoing agreement between you and you former partner is legally binding, whether you were married or not, and whether there is a court order or not. The courts recognize any arrangement that parents agree to in terms of visitation. You should, however, submit the current agreement to family court and make it an official court order. It is not true that there needs to be a ''battle'' in order for the courts to assist in helping you make it official. If you and you partner are in agreement you should be able to do it fairly painlessly. Any lawyer or paralegal can fill out the appropriate paperwork for you. If you are in disagreement, the courts will recognize and create a court order which is similar to what you are already doing - Disrupting the lives of children is something they avoid if they can. Please make it official one way or another. Court orders provide a lot of piece of mind and help prevent conflicts about visitation issues. Meg

Never married, afraid of going to court

Jan 2007

I have a two and a half year old daughter. Her father and I were never married and he has been in and out of my house since she has been born. he left the house for the last time about two months ago and is already engaged to be married to another woman with three children. Needless to say I am extremeley angry, hurt over the whole situation. Currently he sees my daughter three times a week and it is usually at my house though I have not been opposes to him taking her over to the house he is currently living in (not the future wifes house). Soon (within the next three months) he will be married and i know that I will have to relinquish my daughter to him and allow her to spend time with her father and his new wife. We have chosen to not got to court as of yet. He pays me a reasonable sum of child support and the visitation arrangement has worked for both of our schedules. However, now he is taking her out in a car and won't answer the phone when I call and my daughter is with him. He is an alcoholic and I am extremely uncomfortable with him driving my daughter around especially when he will not answer his phone. I am scared to go to court because I don't want a 50/50 split right now at this age and I will probably get less child support.

I am hoping that someone who has had experience with a situation like this can provide some insight. Would the court automatically split 50/50? Would the fact that he has been in rehab and arrested for alcohol related matters matter to the court when deciding how much time he gets with her? If he does get visitation with her at his new wifes house do I get to know the address that my daughter is at? Is it better to just try to settle it out of court? Since she has been at my residence since she has been born does that give me a better chance to get sole custody? I am not trying to keep my daughter's father away from her. She loves him and he loves her. However, it is my job to make sure she is safe. Any insight would be extremely helpful and much appreciated. sad mama

I have never been through a custody battle so I can't speak to that, and I'm very sorry you're going through it. But what I can speak to is that you're right, it is absolutely your responsibility to keep your daughter safe, probably above all other responsibilities you have. If you seriously think he is driving your daughter around drunk, you have to do whatever you can to prevent her from ever getting in a car with him. Whatever it takes. Job #1. I don't mean to be overly harsh here, but the fact that you haven't already taken steps to get custody make me wonder if there isn't another reason you're worried it won't be favorable towards you.

My partner's dad was an alcoholic who drove her around drunk all the time. She remembers it well, and she was terrified each time. To the point that she would fall asleep on the 5 minute drive home from school. (After the stop to pick up the Jack Daniels each day, that is). She realized as an adult that falling asleep was her only way of coping.

I don't want your daughter to end up coping like this. Or worse. this is serious

I am so sorry for your situation, it sounds really painful. I do think you should get legal advice and probably a court order. I understand that you are open to sharing custody, and I'm not suggesting otherwise, but you absolutely do need to be able to get in touch with your Ex at any time your daughter is with him.

And absolutely you should know where she is staying when she is not with you. I also think that if you have real concerns about your Ex driving her around that is another thing that you might need to have a judge put some restrictions on. I can understand not wanting to ''make a fuss'' and keep it simple, etc. but I think the safest thing for your daughter and yourself is having some very clear guidelines with consequences if your Ex does not follow them. Good luck and again I'm sorry you have to deal with this. anon.

The most important thing is for you to maintain a healthy parenting relationship with your ex for the health and happiness of your child. It sounds like you are off to a good start; don't let his new relationship interfere with that. If he has a record of alcoholism, which it sounds like he does, a court would probably order him not to drink within a certain period of time before and during visits. You might ask him to agree to this informally (if you can trust him). A court would also allow you to know the address of the home where visitation is taking place. Keep your head level and hopefully you can get this information without going to court. Lynne

I'm pregnant, can I file for custody now?

April 2006

I am currently pregnant. It seems that my partner, whom I live with, and I will not be able to work things out. He has threaten me about custody in the past. Can I begin to file custody now? If not, when can I begin the process? What would I need to be able to get full custody? He has an 8 year old son and has 1/2 custody to, but owes tons of child support. He has a couple DUIs, hasn't had a steady job in years, goes to school fulltime now, and is emotionally abusive to me. So far, I've carried all the financial responsibility of this pregnancy. What type of proof would I need to win my case? LV

Your ex isn't going to provide child support no matter what you do. If he isn't already paying for his other child, you're not going to get a dime out of him. I've been there, and the DA can't collect on what someone doesn't have...

Here's my suggestion: DON'T put the father on the birth certificate, just leave it blank.

If you give him an inch in the custody battle, it sounds like he'll take a mile, most likely. Don't give him the option. It sounds like he has problems, and trying to get custody, prove paternity, etc. would be costly and time consuming. If he can't get his S*** together enough to drive sober, can't keep a job, and is otherwise unhelpful, what are the chances he'll even attempt to fight you, esp. if you leave him off the birth certificate.

A lot of kids grow up without fathers, and frankly, it hurts worse to have a negligent, problematic dad who can' keep it together than it does to never have known your father from the beginning. This guy doesn't sound like great dad material anyway, but you haven't described his relationship with his other child. There are few judges who would grant custody to a guy with DUIs on his record, who can't maintain a job, and is unstable. Esp. since it sounds like you're stable and reliable.

I bet you'll do a great job with your happy baby all by yourself!
-- Fed up with deadbeat loser dads

Yes, start a case right away. You may absolutely begin a case while pregnant. You will need to file an Order to Show Cause to Family Court services. Have official doccumentation for the DUI and anything else. Money issue will be dealt with in your case, but money does not play an role in custody other than the amount you will get for child support is related to the percent of custody you have. Also, absoluley breastfeed your infant, and breastfeed as long as you can. Get all of the support you need to breastfeed successfully because it can be hard to do at first. I say this because the courts recognize breastfeeding as beneficial and will favor you in custody and visitation matters. Besides, it's the best thing to do for your baby. Meg

Should I go to court to terminate father's custody rights?

March 2006

Dear wise advice givers- I am a single mom of a 3 year old. Her father is present in her life, seeing her once or so a week and heavily agitating for more time with her. Our agreement when I got pregnant was that he would see her 1-2 days a week and that we would not get the courts involved in our custody disputes.

However I've become increasingly concerned that he may someday take me to court. So my question is what can i do legally now? Is there something we can draw up with a lawyer saying he agrees not to sue me and that he effectively terminates his custody rights? Would this be binding in court? Thank-you so much.

P.S. There are many extenuating circumstances as to why I want to do this, so I would appreciate not recieving posts about how I should allow him more visitation.

The courts tend to honor whatever agreements parents come to on their own, and real custody battles are rare. When there is custody mediation, the recommendations will more often than not reflect the reality that currently exists. A very involved father will be given more visit time than a marginally involved father.

Family Court Services, rightfully so, do not like to seriously disrupt that which is familiar to a child, especially a young child. With that said, terminating the parental rights of one parent never happens unless that parent does not want anything to do with the child. You seem to suggest that this is not the case.

You may not get exactly what you want if you ask Family Court Services to help you mediate an agreement, but you will have an official court order and the peace of mind that comes with it.

Child custody and visitation cases are considered always open cases. There is no such thing as permanently settling things unless neither one of you has any interest in doing so. Your child's father will always have the right to request the modification of the orders, and you will also. In my experience, living without a court order can be scary and unpredictable. If the father agrees to things, that agreement becomes the court order. You don't need a lawyer to turn an agreement into a court order, in fact I advise against getting one. They are expensive and tend to view child custody and visitation issues advisarially. You may submit an ''Order to Show Cause'' petition directly to Family Court Services. If you agree to everthing, this agreement will slide through the system fairly smoothly and become a court order. If you do not agree you will meet with a custody mediator who will recommend a specific parenting plan which is considered in the best interest of the child. This process is not the same as a custody battle, although depending on your situation, it can feel like one. You will also get child support out of this process. In California, parents most always share 50/50 legal custody unless there is a really good reason (like incarceration). Physical custody orders vary depending upon the parenting plan. Meg

Were your ex given advice as to what to do as he gears up to file for custody, one thing he would be told is to establish precedent by having the child with him more often. (Precedent can be a big factor in a court where the decision makers know very little about you both personally.) Maybe this is his motivation, or maybe he just feels ready to take the child more often. Don't know. You do. If the father does pose a threat to you or your family unit, then yes, I would 1. Be very careful about what precedent you allow to be set. 2. Get help from a legal aid type agency and file for custody. This is legally very important for many reasons, in addition to whatever concerns you have about the father. 3. File first. Courts also seem to take that into consideration -- who is listed as the plantiff and who the defendant. 4. Because filing first is important, do not make it a point to tell him you plan to file, because if he is recieving advice as well, he will also be told to file first. (The court system, by its inherent impersonal nature, unfortunately has aspects to it that sometimes seem more like a game than serious decisions for real families. Problematic system, but one you must work within.)My experience with this issue is from another state, so please, do seek legal counsel. anonymous

From what you are saying it doesn't sound like your child's father would sign the agreement not to sue. There is a Nolo Press book about Custody that has custody agreements in it. It might be worth checking out, and consulting a lawyer is probably a smart move. Parental rights are heavily guarded by the courts. (I think too much.) People can always sue each other.

If you are deciding not to take him to court for full physical and legal custody (which is hard to get)take lots of notes. Whatever your reasons for wanting to control his access, document as much as possible. There are definately situations when limiting access to a parent is the best move. sole custodial parent

Can we make custody agreement without going to court?

Dec 2004

My partner and I, who were never married and have children together, are separating soon. The separation will be more or less amicable and we have the best interests of the children at heart, but I would like ''legally-recognized'' child support and custody arrangements to avoid future problems. If we can work out the arrangements between ourselves, do we still need to go through the court system? Does that mean we have to file papers to the court? Or are signed agreements legal documents without being submitted to the court? How does one make written agreements ''legal''? I did get the child custody book from Nolo, but it doesn't say what to do with the parenting agreements and it has very little information on child support. I'm really at a loss as to how to progress. Also I desperately need advice on how to emotionally support and prepare very young children (under 3 years old) for separation. Can you recommend any children's (or adults') books? What are some things to pay special attention to for children of this age? Any words of experience would be very much appreciated. anon

I happen to be going through the exact same process as you except I never had a true relationship with the father of my 9 month old. I'm in Contra Costa County and I've been doing a lot of research on the topics of custody and visitation and child support and the effects of separation/divorce on children. Here are some good resources...

Unmarried Parents Rights by Jacqueline Stanley ISBN 1572484276 I found this at the law library as well as online on eBooks The Visitation Handbook by Brette Sember ISBN 1572483083 and Clinician's Guide to Child Custody by Marc Ackerman ISBN 0471150916

The process of making everything formal, the way I understand it, is in order for the courts to recognize and enforce the parenting agreement and the child support, paternity needs to established and recorded in the courts then a case number is assigned. If you and your ex have been able to work together to make a parenting plan, the child custody and visitation part can all be included in the forms you turn in and the case never needs to go to a hearing if everyone is in agreement already. If you're not in agreement, then the papers still need to be filed to open the case and mediation must occur to come to an agreement before going before a judge for the hearing. As far as child support, California has guidelines and a formula that calculates the exact amount recommended for the support payments based on your income and expense information that both of you supply.

You can do all this paperwork on your own without a laywer if you want (and if I could afford it, I would rather have the lawyer, but I can't so I'm not)and I found the Law Facilitators Office at the Court House is extremely helpful for paternity and child support actions...and it's free!! Good luck! Michelle

Laws are no different regarding child support if you are married or unmarried. YOu should check out some of the books on step parenting and co parenting and work out a schedule that works for you, and determine which things are issues that need to be resolved in writing. And it would be worth the few hundred dollars it will cost you to consult with an attorney and ask what they think of it and whether it will hold up in court. Simple is probably better, and if you are communicating well, and remain amicable (and that means nobody trying to take advantage of the other!!), you will probably be able to work out the details and will be able to revisit it after you realize what's working or not, or in relation to changes you'll have in your lives. As for the amounts of child support, there is a formula, which is probably in the Nolo book, or you can ask an attorney (who may not want to share the info with you, since they usually plug numbers into a program. Factors are how much time (particularly overnight) in each household, and salaries and whether there are other kids to support. The distribution is hugely disproportionate if, say, one person has the child 60% time and the other 40% time. anon

Want to divorce, but dreading 50/50 custody

Sept 2004

Just wondering how people and kids are faring with a 50/50 custody split with children. I really need to get a divorce, but I am terrified of not being with my kid (7yrs old) every day. The divorce is not likely to be amicable. Things at home now are not hostile, but I am very unhappy. Thanks. anonymous

My heart goes out to you -- I'm in the middle of a custody battle. My husband has many issues and just can't be a husband and provider and father. Anyway, he blames all on me and I ended up taking lots of abuse because I feared what you feared - - not seeing the kids every day. All I can say is that your fears are real and many women live day to day with abusive or unstable men because the fathers at least in California routinely get 50/50 custody. I know several.

I went to a state mandated mediator who didn't read my statement and spent a half an hour ''interviewing'' us. She recommended 50/50 and nesting. Nesting means the kids stay in the house and parents go back and forth.

What a wake up call! I'm penalized for working -- supporting the family when husband wouldn't work and my lawyer said to me ''You wanted liberation''. So even though women earn less -- and should get a higher percentage of the assets -- we don't. We only get 50% -- we should get 60% to compensate for lower earning potential. Women are told 50/50 is better for the kids -- but the verdict is still out -- and women feel really awful when they don't have access to the kids.

So my thought is to find a creative way to see the kids every day. The one week on and one week off and nesting is bad news.

Stay away from court -- and the State mediators -- they are hopeless -- overworked and undereducated and frankly, they don't care.

Giving birth, breast-feeding, emotional support, planning all the things mothers do should count. But they get short shrift. My husband is suddenly scheduling dental and medical appointments and signing up for field trips in order to get custody. Know what you want -- to see your kids every day. and try to get it. anonymous

No one wants to be without their children everyday but that's one of the give and takes of divorce and the hardest thing for me to deal with. I justified it to myself by reminding me that I wasn't the kids only parent. And they need to build a relationship with him as well as me. After 6 years, we have it down. In the times that your child is away, take a fun class, get together with friends, or do something that you absolutely can not do with kids. You will soon start cherishing that time. I do! I still see them almost everyday and/or we talk because I take them to school but I need to have some time for me to be a good mom to them. Joint Custody Mom

My husband has shared 50/50 custody of a now-teenager! , for seven years now. While not ideal (what could be?), we have not been able to imagine an arrangement that would better balance everyone's interests. Based on our experience, important factors to making 50/50 ''work'' are: * Rotate approximately every week (with flexibility for parents' travel schedules or special events), from Monday-after-school to next-Monday-going-to-school; * Child is encouraged to maintain daily phone contact with the other parent (evening phone calls to discuss the day, say goodnight, etc.). If you can afford it, get a separate phone line for the child so that you don't have to answer the other parent's calls to the child; * Both households are within a few miles of each other (so no huge discrepancies in proximity to school or friends); * Child has comparable physical settings (own room with appropriate furnishings) and roughly equal personal belongings (books, toys, clothes, etc.) at each household; * Each household sets its own routines, rules, etc., that are conveyed to the child consistently and non-judgmentally (without reference to the other household), with some sensible consistencies between household (e.g., expectations for getting homework done; what time for lights out/bedtime); * Each household takes responsibility for taking the child to whatever appointments (medical, dental, activities, lessons) that happen to fall on the calendar; * Each household (and the child) avoids making appointments that fall on the other parent's watch without first consulting and getting agreement from the other parent; * The usual wisdom about minimizing overt conflict between the parents within the child's view/hearing and NEVER overtly criticizing the other parent to the child. Hope you find this helpful. Taking these steps can never be easy but it can work out over time. Good luck. Stepmom

''The divorce is not likely to be amicable....but I'm very unhappy..'' I could have written your e-mail nine years ago. I now share 50/50 custody of my children with their father. First, I want to send you support at a time that I remember as one of the most difficult in my life, and to let you know that, even though things were very hard on many levels, for several years afterwards, it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made, both for myself, and for my children. It is still hard to say goodbye to them, each time they go to their father, but, after time a rhythm develops that everyone begins to feel normal about. The kids by the way, are doing wonderfully.

The best advice I can offer you about arranging for 50/50 custody, is: First, make sure that you have your own lawyer. This would be true I think even if things were more amicable. It's not about being combative, its about having someone more neutralized than you are, looking out for your interests, and, if he or she is good, letting you know what your limits are. Some people suggest mediators, and there are good ones out there, but in my experience a mediator will work only when there is basic good will on the part of both parties to work together. If the separation is difficult, or combative, all the anger can easily spill into and muddle a mediative process. HOwever, it was only my experience that mediation absolutely did not work - others might have very different experiences to relate. Second, work hard to write up as detailed a parenting agreement as you can. I made the mistake of leaving too much open, and paying for it later. THe few things we did specify in our marriage settlement agreement get worked out fairly straightforwardly, because the terms are clearly laid out. The things wedidn't write up, we have to deal with, and we often end up resorting to the patterns we used when married - not good for us, the kids, or the issues. There are some good books on co-parenting: The classic is Isolina Ricchi's ''Mom's HOuse/Dad's HOuse. Another one that I found accessible and helpful, was ''The Co-Parenting Survival Guide'', by Jefferey Zimmerman and Elizabeth Thayer. Many good wishes to you. anon.

Please sit down and think carefully about why you want a divorce, whether you have any alternatives, and what you want your life to be like. Be prepared to share custody with your ex 50/50; this means you will have your child only half the time. Many people can tolerate this, and getting out of a bad marriage can be worth the pain of separation from your child , but it can be a heartbreaking experience for all involved. I reccoment a NOLO Press book on child custody to get an idea of what is involved. good luck--Anon anon

I shared 50-50 custody with my ex throughout elementary school and high school. Their dad and I did not have a friendly relationship with each other, and we still don't, but we were able to work things out between us so that tensions for the kids were minimized. We did not use a lawyer or the courts system, we worked it out ourselves. In retrospect I think that in some ways our 50-50 arrangement was not as beneficial for the kids as it would have been had I had a bigger share. I had a more flexible schedule, and I'm more organized. Doctor appointments were forgotten, homework didn't get done, and as they got older, our wonderful but very unambitious little slackers learned how to work the system -- their dad and I were both told that the big project was being worked on at the other parent's house when actually it was nonexistent, that sort of thing. But still, we really had to have a 50-50 deal because he missed the kids just as much as I did. We both wanted to see them all the time, not just half the time, so in a way, neither of us could ever be satisfied with any custody plan. A 50-50 split was as close as we could get. My kids were pretty miserable being stuck full time with 2 parents who fought all the time, so half time with happier parents was much better, even if not perfect. Don't worry - you and the children will get through this and it will be fine. Just keep the big picture in mind and don't get too caught up in the details. anon.

I didn't respond to the first request for advice on this issue; however, I see that only parents in a custody situation offered advice, and I think you should hear a childs perspective as well. My parents divorced when I was four years old (more than twenty years ago). In order to avoid court, my parents arranged a 50/50 custody arrangement where I spent alternating weeks at each parents home until I was 12 years old. It was absolutely miserable. I have vivid memories to this day of screaming and crying because I didn't want to leave my mom. My father was a good father, but it was incredibly traumitizing for me to have to leave my mother for a week at a time as a little girl. In retrospect, I wish that I had lived with my mother, and that they would have arranged some sort of visitation agreement. Even though I had my own room at each house, niether house really felt like home. Heed your instincts, and fight for what you feel is the best situation for your children. I wish my mom had. anonymous

This is the painful reality of many parents - how to divide the time each parents spends with a child. In my opinion (and that's all that it is) small children should never be shuffled back and forth between two houses. Small children should spend the majority of their time in a stable place (one of the partents) with regular visits (some overnights)with the other parent. I know that in many cases, this is not possible because of mediator recomendations or court outcomes. When you absolutely know that your child is better off staying with you most of the week, fight for it. I would try to find a very hard-core lawyer that will try to go for full physical custody and joint legal custody. I divorced when my son was almost two. His father wanted joint custody when he left most of the childrearing to me - I postponed my career and took care of him full-time. He also traveled extensively so I knew it would be in the best interest of my son to have just one stable home. Our mediator suggested 50/50 but I got full physical custody in the end. I have a very good relationship with my son's father. My son continues to spend more time with his dad as he matures (he spends most of the summer vacation with his father as well as every school vacation). Now that he is 9, he would benefit from a 50/50 time with his dad, but his dad moved away so it is no longer a possibility. Would I have done what I did if I had a chance to do it over, absolutely. I have many friends with children in a 50/50 situation that wished they would have fought for more. j

I responded to the original Advice-Seeker and discussed our 'best practices' experiences for making 50/50 custody arrangements work as well as possible. In response to several concerns expressed this week, I want to make two underlying considerations -- the age of the child, and the parenting history of each parent to the child -- explicit, rather than implicit.

I agree that sharing physical custody on a frequent schedule (such as every other week) is often not best for very young children -- younger than age 7 or 8 -- whose sense of security may be better served by a stable primary-home environment (especially if it is the same home as pre-divorce). As kids get older, they're more resilient and more apt to willingly meet the challenges of going between two homes.

Secondly, 50/50 custody (or close to it) works best when both parents have already well-established patterns of active involvement in all (or most) aspects of caretaking: feeding, dressing, bedtime routines, chauffeuring, homework supervision, reading and playing together, chatting, cuddling, etc. If one parent has not been actively involved in caretaking activities, he or she needs to accelerate the learning curve -- and track record -- very quickly if the child is not to suffer even unintentional neglect. Not to say that parenting is ever strictly ''equal'' in all senses, but the basics should be fairly consistent between both homes. For some parents, that might be very difficult to do; for many parents, not so hard. Again, good luck to all in this boat. Stepmom

I am concerned to see how many people recommend ''fighting'' for full custody of children in a shared custody situation. I agree that shared custody is incredibly painful, for parents and children (and yes most parents try to put the needs of their children first), but the fact is in this day and age, the courts will seldom give significantly more custody to one parent without a strong reason--in my opinion, a long, expensive, drawn-out bitter custody battle is more harmful to a child than an arrangement that lets children have significant relationships with both parents. When custody is mediated, you at least retain some control--when you give the power to a court, you may find that you get less than you had to begin with. All the divorce research I have read emphasizes that reducing conflict between parents is themost important thing divorcing parents can do to limit the damage to the children.

I miss my son terribly when he is not with me,and would have preferred to not divorce in the first place, but I am convinced that a long court battle would have been much more painful, and at a greater emotional and financial cost to us all. Good luck to all of us. Half-time mom

We agree I will have full custody - can judge change it?

July 2002

I have a question for those of you who divorced in California. Both my book on divorce, and an expensive lawyer I consulted, say that California law strongly favour splitting property, and children, in half (yes, this is how I feel about 'joint custody' of a small child).

My divorce is amicable. My husband and I want our toddler to live with me, and want me to keep the money I saved while working during our marriage, to use for emergencies when I am in between jobs (he does not have much savings of his own, he has been working only recently)... The house is mine since my husband signed a grant deed to me when I bought it, because he did not want to get stuck with paying the mortgage.

My husband is much younger than me, and is very involved with his new girlfriend. He is going back to school full time and I don't know how much child support he will be able to pay. He wants to visit his child but does not want the responsibility to raise him.

My questions are: Based on your experience, is the judge likely to disregard our Marital Settlement Agreement and force us to divide house or savings equally? Will the judge push for joint custody, and refuse to accept a vague visitation schedule that says 'father will visit child one day a week, and more often upon request', without specifying days?

Thank you for your help. Anonymous

I'm not sure if things have changed, but when I was divorced 10 years ago there was no problem whatsoever having the judge sign the agreement we had come up with (we both used lawyers) which allowed me full physical custody with a set amount of time the children would spend with their father (which we modified according to the children's wishes as they got older). In addition, I kept the house while he kept other assets. We were able to make a settlement that we felt worked best for our children (i.e. them in our home with me) with no problems. It seems to me that an expensive lawyer should certainly be able to let you know whether a mutually agreeable settlement would be acceptable to the court. Sara

It is highly unlikely that a judge will force joint custody down the throats of parents who have amicably reached a different arrangement. A judge cannot force someone to visit his child, although he or she can compel a person to support the child financially. It is likewise unlikely that a judge would insist upon giving property to someone who has said he doesn't want it. Judges are called upon to resolve disputes, not to unravel amicable agreements. Your message seems quite fearful of the family law system, and given your description of your circumstances, such fear seems unjustified. Wendy

My mother is a mediator for a community service in another county. They do a fair number of low or no cost mediations for custody/visitation/child support issues. From what I gather, doing your own agreement without either both sides having attorneys or having a neutral knowledgable mediator present is a bad idea --mostly because you need some professional oversight. After all, you're crafting a document that a judge (a lawyer) needs to be happy with AND that needs to include provisions to ensure flexibility down the road. I have to think the judge is most likely to accept your plan if you can show that it was mutually arrived at and contains all the basic elements he/she expects. Berkeley has a mediation center, and I am sure that they can recommend someone if they don't provide this service themselves. It will probably cost something --but not as much as two lawyers. Chris

I'm surprised your expensive lawyer didn't tell you the court will enforce what you agree on (if it's reasonable, and the arrangement you mention certainly sounds like it is). If you both wanted exclusive custody for yourselves, the court would probably favor an even split. But if you both agree you should have primary custody and your husband is entitled to visitation one day a week, it's my non-expert opinion the court will approve that. Maybe what your lawyer wanted you to do was to come up with a more concrete plan, other than saying ''more if he wants it?'' people do change their minds, and if your husband breaks up with his girlfriend he could decide something completely different. Anyway, generally the courts do not force on parents arrangements that neither of them want. Good luck!!!

Dad Seeking Custody - do moms have the legal advantage?

Jan 1999

To the father look for an attorney. If you haven't done so, try contacting the California Bar Association. They have a lawyer referral service and can refer you to someone experienced in your area of needs/concerns. I do believe that things are changing with regards to child support, etc. In fact I know of two physicians whose custody arrangement calls for the female to pay child support to the male who has custody of the child. Good luck.

To the father asking about a custody/child support attorney. The courts use a formula to decide child support, factoring in the time spent with both parents and the income of both parents. It doesn't matter which parent has the higher salary (or spends more time with the kids) - the formula is not based on gender and does not use gender as a factor. If you end up with the kids more, and make less money, your ex-wife will have to pay you child support. (she may even have to pay child support if she has them more; it totally depends on how the formula comes out). It's a standardized formula. I would highly recommend getting the Nolo Press book How to Raise and Lower Child Support in Calif. - it goes over the basics of the whole support/custody issues. You can crank the formula yourself by hand, or you can use software (IIRC this is from the other Nolo?? - I believe the info. for the software is in the book I mentioned above). The courts are concerned with the best interests of the children. They are just as hard on a deadbeat mom as deadbeat dad. These of course are my *opinions* I am not an attorney, just a single parent. Good luck!