Caring mother helping little daughter dressing for walk with dad, family talking getting ready to go out standing in house hall, divorced young couple shared parenting and joint custody concept

Chula Vista Child Custody Attorney

Leigh A. Kretzschmar is known to be a child custody attorney who is accessible to her clients.  During her 20+ years of experience with child custody disputes, Leigh A. Kretzschmar works on a one-one basis with her clients to develop a parenting plan.  This often is a difficult process because each parent has fears about how the divorce or separation will impact the children and how his or her time with the children will be affected.

Co-parenting.  California child custody laws are developed on the principle that a child’s needs are best-served through frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Unless there is a credible threat of harm to a child by an unfit parent, the courts set up co-parenting plans that provide for regular contact between both parents and their children. This policy generally holds true even when one parent has heart-felt concerns about the other parent’s new circumstances or lifestyle, such as a non-marital partner, differences in parenting styles or minimal involvement with the child before separation. Parents also need to understand that the child’s needs may make an exact equal sharing of the children not possible.

What Leigh A. Kretzschmar Can Do For You

You will be educated and advised about the court’s custody processes.  With this understanding, you will feel more comfortable and understand what information to provide to the court.

You will learn practical and creative approaches to resolving shared-parenting disputes, which over the past 20 years has enabled many parents to resolve their cases without intervention by the courts.

You will understand the court process, and be prepared for your appointment in the court-sponsored mediation process (“FCS”), a required step before going to court in a child custody dispute.

In court, you will have an advocate who is knowledgeable about the law, respected by judges and who will competently present your concerns to the judge.

Contact Leigh A. Kretzschmar by calling (619) 231-9323

In-person Appointments:  clients located within in San Diego, CA, La Mesa, CA, National City, CA, Chula Vista, CA, El Cajon, CA, Tierrasanta, CA, Santee, CA, Ramona, CA and surrounding areas.

Telephone appointments:  clients outside of the County of San Diego, California.

The most common physical custody arrangement involves one parent having the primary residence and the other parent having as much visitation as is supported by factors and circumstances considered by the court.  Visitation can be weekly, alternating periods (weekends), or any other plan which the judge thinks is appropriate. Unless there are issues about domestic violence, substance abuse or serious mental health issues, the parents equally participated in legal custody – which is decisions about the child’s health, education, extra-curricular activities, and general welfare.   

By giving each parent legal rights to make decisions regarding their children, one parent may not make decisions which would interfere with the other parent’s parenting time. 

When there are serious and credible allegations of domestic violence, substance abuse, and/or mental health issues which impair judgment, one parent may be awarded sole physical and legal custody.  In these cases, visitation is often limited and supervised by a mutually agreeable person, or a professional.

Generally, a judge presiding over a child custody case will make their decision based on the best interests of the child or children. Several factors are considered before the parental custody situation is determined.

One important factor that may affect a judge’s custody decision is the age of the child or children in the family and the sibling relationships, if any. While in most courts the “tender years” doctrine is a thing of the past, most judges still consider the child’s age as a factor in how long the child can tolerate separation from each parent.  This can be a problem for the parent who was the primary breadwinner when the other parent was a stay-at-home parent.  For example, if a divorced couple has a newborn and nursing baby the birth mother would be significantly more likely to receive primary custody than the other parent, in the period right after separation into separate households.

The parent’s new living situation is another factor that could influence the judge’s custody decision. For instance, the parent who remains in the family home may be more likely to receive custody of the children due to the continuity of the children’s living situation, if all other factors are relatively equal. Judges look to avoid forcing the children to move out of comfortable surroundings, into new schools, away from existing extra-curricular activities and friends to maintain stability in the child’s quality of life. Generally, if both parents remain in the same area, a judge is less likely to be concerned about this issue.  On the other hand, f you are living in a friend’s house, sleeping on the couch with no appropriate accommodations for the children, this apparently temporary circumstance would be more important than the fact that you are still in the area. 

Similarly, a parent’s introduction to the children about a new partner may influence a judge’s perspective if done too soon, or inappropriately, given the age of the children and the stability of the new relationship.

The parents’ co-parenting relationship and ability to support each other’s relationship with the children strongly influences a judge’s decision. If one parent is entirely incapable of cooperating with their co- parent and would make custody exchanges and schedules highly conflicted, the judge will take that behavior into account. Another possible issue that may arise in the custody determination process is one parent attempting to emotionally separate the child from the other parent. For example, one parent may constantly badmouth the other parent in front of the children, or attempt to cut off contact between parent and child. In this case, the judge will be more likely to award primary custody to the respectful and punctual parent.

The quality of each parent’s relationship with the children will also be carefully considered before making the parenting plan. For example, if one parent is constantly traveling for work and had little consistently or participation in their children’s lives before separation, the judge will be more likely to award primary custody to the other parent. Judges are not permitted to consider the need for daycare during custodial time as a factor in determining the parenting plan.

Around the age of twelve, depending on the general maturity of the child, a judge may take the child’s wishes into account. This information can be presented through a child’s direct testimony, through the court’s parenting mediation process, or from a professional custody evaluator.    

When there are accusations, or even clear evidence, of abuse or neglect by one of the parents in the custody battle, judges will take this information into account and fashion a parenting plan which ensures the safety and well-being of the child.

Domestic violence is also a serious issue which is carefully considered by a judge before deciding on the parenting plan.  If the domestic violence occurred in front of the child, it is deemed child abuse.  In order to be awarded custody, parents committing the domestic violence must prove through credible evidence that there is not a risk of exposing the child to further domestic violence.

Yes, in some cases.  It is entirely possible in a very contentious, and possibly nasty, divorce for an attorney to be appointed to represent your child to ensure that the child’s perspectives are heard during the custody proceedings. This attorney, “Minor’s Counsel”, is usually appointed when the children are too young, or have disabilities, such that they cannot otherwise participate in the proceedings.   You should be aware that, even if you are the parent who requested Minor’ Counsel, they will not represent you, or necessarily recommend your desired parenting plan.

The child’s attorney will act more as a neutral party when it comes to the parents and only speaks out in the child’s interest.

A Minor’s Counsel will also investigate the facts of the child custody case and assist in determining what situation the child would prefer as well as what situation would be best for them. However, sometimes those two situations are not the same and the court may have to act outside of the child’s wishes to protect them and ensure their quality of life.

When both parents share custody of their children, it is called “joint custody”. Even with joint custody, parenting time may not be exactly equal and child support payments are not nullified.  If the parents have exactly equal income and 50/50 custody, then neither parent will pay support to the other.  However, the larger the difference between their incomes, then the higher-earning spouse will owe the other parent some amount of child support, calculated by California’s “guideline” formula.

Child support payments are determined primarily by the amount of time each spent with the children, and the gross income of each parent.  Other formula factors are tax shelters such as mortgage interest, real property taxes and health insurance premiums.

While children may have input as to where they will live and the parenting plan, as a minor they cannot be the end-all-be-all to the case. Judges will still have to consider all of the child’s circumstances which affect a custody decision. Judges do this to ensure that their decision is in the best interest of the child and not just what the child may want.  Judges are opposed to children being forced, or encouraged, to decide between their parents.

For example, one parent may constantly bad mouth their co- parent to the child and attempt to brainwash them into not wanting to see or be around the likely more responsible and positive parental influence.  Sometimes, a parent becomes the “fun” or gift-giving parent in order to influence the child’s wishes.  When there is credible evidence of such conduct, the judge cannot rely on the preferences of the minor as the primary basis for the judge’s determination.

In some cases, the judge may not want to involve the child in the custody decision at all to avoid making the child choose between the two parents and possibly causing childhood trauma.  This is particularly true when the parents are involved in a very contentious and aggressive divorce.

By the time, the child is in their middle- to late-teens, (over age 14) the courts give great weight to the child’s decisions.

If there is no court-ordered custody arrangement for the custody of the child, both parents maintain equal rights to the child and may take physical custody of the child at any time. However, taking a child from your co-parent without their consent will most likely be held against you in court when custody is being officially established.

For example, if one parent picks up their child from school and takes them on a vacation without asking the other parent or letting them know, there can be serious consequences in the courtroom in front of the judge. In this case, the judge will look at your case in a negative light.

In California, there is no exact age at which the child can decide who they will live with.  Instead, the judge considers all of the child’s circumstances, including the child’s maturity and any unique needs. 

In most cases, the court will allow testimony only as a last resort.  When such testimony is permitted, the child will be able to address their thoughts and feelings on the case and what situation they believe would work best for them. Judges will often protect the child from feeling as if they are choosing between parents; and, will rarely ask direct questions such as “who do you want to live with?”

Judges will also interview the children themselves, or have a child custody evaluator interview the child, rather than public testimony or in front of parents; and, particularly not allow questioning by a parent’s attorney.  These practices avoid having to force a child to explicitly state their feelings and opinions in a traumatic and possibly life-altering fashion. This also helps to combat coaching by the parents to ensure that they and not their parent should receive custody of the children.

The court will determine the children’s primary residence by looking over all of the child’s circumstances.  In particular, the judge will consider the length of time a child is used to being away from each parent, the child’s special needs which would make the child’s ability to adapt particularly difficult. 

The major factor that will determine the primary residence of the child is consistency and continuity. The court will attempt to maintain the child’s quality of life rather than uprooting the children and changing their lives.

Due to HIPPA, your medical and psychiatric details cannot be given to your former parent or the court without your written consent or a judge-authorized court order.  Parents have a right of privacy; however, if a parent’s ability to make good decisions is limited by mental health, substance abuse or other health-related issues, these records often can be obtained. 

No.  It is possible to amend your child custody arrangement through the child’s 18th birthday.  Unlike child support, parenting time may be changed without a court order.  However, not putting new arrangements in writing risks that the other parent will revert back to the court order.  It is therefore best to put long-term changes in writing and submit the document to the court to become a court order.    

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