- Child Custody and Visitation
The court will determine each parent's rights and obligations toward their children if the parties cannot agree on a parenting arrangement. The court will make decisions about your children if:
- you are going through a divorce (dissolution) and cannot agree on matters affecting the children
- you and the other parent were never married but one parent has asked the court for a legal order establishing the rights and obligations of each parent
- you are seeking a domestic violence restraining order and have children with the person to be restrained
Custody refers to the responsibility of caring for the children and planning for their future. If you have children with another person, the end of that relationship usually does not mean the end of your contact with that person. Together you should try to agree on a plan that is best for your children. There are many different types of custody:
- Joint custody means that both parents share physical and legal custody.
- Sole physical custody means that a child will live with and be under the supervision of one parent. In this type of arrangement it is common for the other parent to have visitation. Visitation refers to the time that a child spends with a non-custodial parent by mutual agreement of the parents or according to a schedule.
- Joint physical custody is defined as each parent having significant periods of physical custody with the child.
- Sole legal custody means that one parent shall have the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of a child.
- Joint legal custody means that both parents shall have the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of a child.
If you and the other parent cannot agree on a plan, the court will decide. The official legal standard is always the child's "best interest". The policy favored by the courts is that arrangement which allows for frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Before the court makes these decisions, parents must go through a process with Family Court Services called child custody recommending counseling (formerly mediation).
- Family Court Services is part of the court and provides mediation and recommending counseling for families with custody and visitation disputes. A person will be referred to FCS when an action is started that involves custody or visitation. Private mediators outside of the court system can also be used.
- Mediation requires both parents to sit down with a child custody recommending counselor and try to come to an agreement concerning custody and visitation of the children.
- If the parents are successful at reaching an agreement the Court will prepare the stipulation if neither party is represented by an attorney.
- If no agreement is reached, the recommending counselor is required by law to make a recommendation to the Judge.
- If the court finds it to be in the best interest of the children, the court can also order visitation for grandparents, stepparents and others.
- Parent Orientation Program
- The court requires parents with disputed custody and visitation issues to complete Mediation Orientation prior to their court date. Mediation orientation is offered each Monday at 3:30 in Department F2 at the Family Law Annex located at 540 E. Main St., Stockton, CA 95202. Mediation Orientation is available in Spanish on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month in Room 18 at the Family Law Annex.
- Child Support
The Department of Child Support Services offers free services available to all residents of San Joaquin County. You can submit an application to open a case with the Department of Child Support Services at their office located at 826 N. California St., Stockton, CA 95202 or online. You can learn more about their services by visiting San Joaquin County Department of Child Support Services
To get child support information or to find out the amount of child support that would be payable under the California State Child Support Guidelines you can access the Child Support Calculator.
If you cannot afford an attorney or want to represent yourself you can have your papers reviewed by the Family Law Facilitator/ Pro Per Clinic. If you need assistance completing forms you should seek help from the office of the Family Law Facilitator/ Pro Per Clinic
- Modifying Court Orders
After a reasonable amount of time, or if the circumstances in your case have changed since the last order, either party may file a motion to modify a prior court order concerning custody, visitation, or child support.
For example, you may want to consider filing a motion to modify a court order in order to
- raise or lower child support
- change the residence of a child
- increase or decrease the time a child spends with each parent
If you and the other parent agree you may be able to avoid a court hearing if both parties sign an agreement or stipulation.
If you do not have an agreement with the other party you will need to file a motion to request a hearing. Before you can ask the court to change your existing order:
- You must have an existing case in San Joaquin County and know your case number.
- You must obtain a copy of your most recent court order
You may obtain the above information at the Records Department located at 540 E. Main St., Stockton, CA 95202. Please visit Records Management for further information.
- Family Court Services
- Parent Orientation Program
- Online Resources
Interactive Websites that provide information on divorce and separation for kids, teens, and parents:
Families Change– A guide to separation and divorce.
Changeville– Helping kids with parental divorce or separation.