People preparing for divorce often find that they have many issues to address as part of that process. For many spouses, property division can be the most serious concern, as spouses worry about what community property rules might mean for their future financial stability.

If there are minor children in the family, then custody matters could easily become the most contentious element of the divorce process. Parents often have a hard time reaching a mutually-agreeable decision about how they share parental rights and responsibilities with each other. They may need to turn to the courts to settle their disagreements.

How do California family law judges handle custody conflicts between divorcing spouses who have chosen to litigate their situation?

The courts always focus on the children

Often, the courts try to promote cooperation between divorcing or separating parents with custody disagreements. After all, the adults in the family are in a position to better understand the needs of the children than a stranger. However, if parents simply cannot find a way to compromise with one another, then a judge can determine the best way to handle custody matters. A judge reviews information about the current family dynamics and the needs of the children to decide what custody arrangements might be in their best interests.

Typically, judges want to keep both adults actively involved and may go to great lengths to preserve both parental relationships. Judges tend to give each adult a reasonable share of parenting time or physical custody. The right to have time with the children comes with a responsibility to meet their needs. During parenting time, an adult must provide shelter, food and other basic requirements that the children have. The courts can augment one parent’s ability to meet the needs of the children by ordering the other to pay child support.

Parents also typically share decision-making authority or legal custody. They have to agree with one another about any significant or long-term decisions about their children’s upbringing. Judges typically only eliminate one parent’s time with the children or require supervised visitation in scenarios where there is compelling evidence of factors that could put the children at risk.

The courts need police reports, medical documents and other verifiable proof that one parent has neglected or abused the children or is likely to do so given their unstable circumstances. Typically, even those embroiled in high-conflict divorces have to find ways to compromise and work together with their co-parents for the benefit of their children.

Understanding how the courts approach custody matters can make it easier for parents to settle their disagreements and establish a working co-parenting arrangement. Those who accept that shared custody is standard in most cases can prioritize seeking appropriate terms rather than fighting for arrangements that judges are unlikely to approve.