Child custody is a serious matter that affects more than just the parents. Children are deeply impacted by the battles between their parents and the stress of legal proceedings can amplify feelings of anxiety, fear and anger. The way parents act during this time also has a direct impact on their children and this is something the Court takes very seriously.

In California, parents must file for custody and/or visitation orders in a family law case called a Petition for Custody and Support. If you are not already in a family law case, you will need to start one like Dissolution of Marriage, Legal Separation or Parentage. You can get assistance from the Self-Help Center or a Family Law Facilitator.

The first step in a custody case is to fill out the Petition and pay the filing fee. Then you will have to serve the other party with the papers either in person or by mail. The person who serves the papers needs to complete a Proof of Service form.

When deciding custody arrangements, the court always looks at what is in the best interests of the child. The judge will consider several factors including age, health, emotional ties, ties to school and community and any history of domestic violence or neglect.

In most cases, the court will award both parents joint custody or shared parenting time. This is because it is public policy in California for children to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce or separation. However, in some cases it may be in the best interest of a child to have full custody with one parent.