Why Do Custody Disagreements to Go to Trial?

The family court system is designed for parents to work out custody disagreements on their own. The courts have in place mandatory mediation sessions and programs like Child Custody Recommending Counseling (CCRC) to help parents agree on the terms and conditions of raising children in separate households.

Family court judges would rather parents make decisions about child custody. When parents cannot agree after mediation and CCRC, a custody case goes to trial. At a custody hearing, a judge hears the facts, reviews the evidence, and hands down a decision.

Custody Arrangements Are Prone to Conflict

Issues related to child custody and support are the likeliest to go to trial out of any pertaining to a divorce. This is partly due to the emotions involved. The children are one of the last ties to the other parent, making custody issues more emotional than anything else.

Also, in California, child support is partly based on the amount of time each parent has with the minor children. The person who is on the hook for support generally wants more time with the children to offset that amount he or she is going to have to pay. This scenario happens frequently, and those cases tend to end up decided in court.

Child custody cases where physical and/or emotional abuse to a child OR a parent has occurred are likely to go to trial as well.  A finding of physical/emotional abuse has serious ramifications with respect to custody, both legal and physical.

Learn more: Legal Custody vs Physical Custody Explained

There’s an Inability to Co-Parent

In joint legal custody situations where parents share decisions related to the children’s upbringing, conflict arises any time parents don’t have the same idea about meeting the health, education, and welfare needs of the children. It is particularly problematic if one parent addresses these issues unilaterally without input from the other parent.

Co-parenting disagreements come in all shapes and sizes. Three of the most common issues are related to decisions about education, healthcare, and religion.

  • Education - Where a child goes to school gets complicated if parents reside in different school districts. Ideally, parents are able to identify which school best fits the children’s needs and living arrangement. In recent years, as charter schools and homeschooling has become more prevalent, parents have more choices about where to send their kids to school, thus increasing the potential for conflict.
  • Healthcare - Certain healthcare decisions are prone to disagreement among co-parents. Diagnosis and treatment of ADHD with stimulant mediation is one example. Another might be a decision whether or not to have surgery after a sports related injury. Parents might also disagree about which medical professionals should be advising them.
  • Religion – In an interfaith divorce, or if one of the parents to leave a religious institution to which the family belonged, points of conflict commonly arise. Perhaps one parent suddenly doesn’t want their children involved in practicing the faith of the other parent. Or perhaps one parent decides to stop Sunday school, or doesn’t uphold prescribed dietary restrictions. Religious issues are sensitive, and if parents can’t agree, the issues often escalate into something the courts are asked to resolve.

Often issues are intertwined - For example, a mom might pull her second-grade son out of school due to behavioral problems, allergies, and other problems related to an ADHD diagnosis. The boy’s father disagrees with both the diagnosis and the decision to home school, and pursues a court order for healthcare and education arrangements in the best interest of the child.

There Are Move-Away Issues

If one parent moves out of state, or more than two or three hours away within the state,  affects the other parent’s custody schedule, this is a very common point of contention that the courts often are asked to decide.

In some instances, relocation can be grounds for the non-custodial parent to request a change in the custody agreement.   In some instances, a custodial parent must first get approval from the court for such a move.

There are all sorts of laws and precedents that define what constitutes a move-away, and what is and is not allowed under the law.

There Is a History of Domestic Violence

There are certain statutes that presume that parents convicted of domestic violence shouldn't be having custodial time with the children. If one parent has been found to be abusive  that parent must show he or she is doing the things he/she needs to do to overcome that presumption.

This would include showing the court that the necessary steps have been taken to address those issues. This might include a 52-week anger management program, therapy and counseling, and parenting classes.

What Should You Do If You Can’t Agree on Custody?

As with any divorce-related legal matter involving children, their best interests are number one. Co-parenting after a split is often difficult, especially if the relationship with your ex-partner is contentious. An experienced child custody attorney can help you find a constructive solution for custody disagreements and other issues facing you and your children.

About the author

Chandra Moss is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) with more than 25 years of experience practicing family law in southern California.

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