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Custody of Children

F amily Code Sections 3000 through 3204 govern custody issues. The terms “joint custody”, “joint legal custody”, “joint physical custody”, “sole legal custody” and “sole physical custody” are defined in Sections 3002 through 3007.

The California Legislature has made specific findings about custody for children under Family Code Section 3020. It is the public policy of the State to assure that the health, safety and welfare of children shall be the court’s primary concern in making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children. It is also the public policy of the State to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated, or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship. It is also the policy of the State to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing to best effect this policy, except when contact would not be in the best interests of the child as provided under Section 3011.

There are many different shared parenting plans that can be discussed between parents. Napa County has a department called “Family Court Services” which includes mediation on custody issues. Mediation on custody issues is required. Trained mediators can help parents reach an agreement about custody and visitation.

If the parents cannot agree on a plan for custody and visitation, a skilled local attorney can help with the work necessary to put the issue before the court for the court’s decision.

In some cases, a judge will decide that the child needs to have his or her own attorney. An attorney will then be appointed as “Minor’s Counsel” under Family Code Section 3150. The court can order that the parents pay the fees of Minor’s Counsel.

Since July 2009, Colleen Clark has been court appointed as Minor’s Counsel in Napa County in various cases.

“Parents sometimes forget that the child is made up of both parents.”

Fighting about the child, particularly in front of the child, is not in the child’s best interests. Judges typically frown on that kind of behavior and if evidence is presented to a judge that this is happening, that can have a negative effect on the outcome of a custody dispute.