Child custody and visitation courts in Santa Barbara
Separations involving kids can be complicated. Parents who no longer want a relationship with each other are still connected through their children. Best case, they work together to create a custody or visitation agreement.
“Parties can and should try to make parenting schedules through an agreement,” said Marcus Morales, an attorney with Morales Law, P.C. whose firm practices exclusively divorce and child custody law. “Parties can fashion and agree to schedules that work for parents and the children that the court may not be willing to order.”
Even when you agree, it’s important to get it in writing and check with a lawyer about legal ramifications, Morales said. Your agreement should include information about both physical custody — where a child lives — and legal custody — who makes decisions about schooling, medical treatment, religious practices, and so on.
When you can’t agree, it’s important to hire a lawyer familiar with the Santa Barbara court system. Here’s what to expect.
Marital status won’t affect the outcome
When it comes to determining custody, whether you were or are married is not a major factor.
“If paternity can be established, there are very few legal distinctions regarding how the court makes child custody and visitation orders between married and unmarried parents,” Morales said. “The court is required to make child custody and visitation orders based on what is in the child's best interest, which is a broad standard.”
A parent’s gender is not a factor
Today, courts do not automatically give custody to one parent based on gender. The law does not automatically give fathers custody of sons or mothers custody of daughters.
Safety of the child is paramount
“If a parent has a documented history of domestic violence, there is a presumption against awarding custody to the perpetrator of domestic violence,” Morales said. Additionally, a parent who has substance abuse issues, including drugs or alcohol, can lead a court to award custody to the other parent. “Courts want to ensure the child’s safety. Nothing gives court’s more concern than issues with alcohol or drugs. Allegations are made by parents, but the question is what you can prove and what will be admissible in court. A skilled child custody litigator can ensure evidence of safety issues are admitted and persuasively argued to the court.”
Courts will also consider which parent is a good role model and the relationship between the child and each parent.
Courts prefer continuity
When possible, courts try to preserve routines by, for example, keeping kids in the same school or with the same childcare provider. Continuity helps them cope with the changes that come from their parents separating.
Morales said the courts will look at “the historical visitation schedule and who has made decisions for the children in the past” and “which parent promotes the relationship between the child and the other parent and is willing to co-parent.”
Co-parenting with a narcissist can be challenging
You always hear the horror stories of ex’s fighting over custody for years. “Having a narcissist as a co-parent can lead to constant litigation, controlling behavior, micromanagement, and attempting to manipulate the children against you. When a parent refuses to the put the children first, effective litigation planning and execution is needed to combat the narcissist.”
Attorney fees can be ordered if one parent has more financial resources than the other
“If there is a disparity in access and ability to pay attorney fees, one parent can be forced to pay the other’s attorney fees. Strategies can be taken to ensure child custody litigation is paid for by the other parent. Conversely, strategies can be taken to ensure you do not have to pay for child custody litigation of the other parent, or limiting the amount paid.”
Local lawyers are ideal
One of the most important things you can do in a child custody dispute is hire a Santa Barbara lawyer who exclusively practices in divorce and family law. Local lawyers are familiar with judges and understand judicial expectations and preferences, which arguments are effective, and which relevant case law and family code sections will improve their clients’ chances of success.
“We recently had a case where the other parent hired an out-of-town attorney who did not practice exclusively family law, and it negatively impacted the other parent's case, leading to our client being granted sole custody,” Morales said. “Local counsel who practices exclusively family law is critical.”
If you are in a child custody dispute, Morales Law, P.C. offers free consultations to provide guidance on how to proceed. Marcus Morales has been practicing exclusively divorce and child custody litigation since 2011. If you contact a lawyer early in your case, you may be able to stop problems before they become overwhelming for you. Visit MySantaBarbaraLawyer.com or call 805-845-5405 for more information or to meet with a local attorney. They are located at 718-B State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.