Sacramento Child Custody Attorney

Negotiation Whenever Possible

Successful Child Custody Arrangements Are Possible

Families change, but there are strategies to lessen the impact of a break up on children.  Parental attitudes directly affect children during a divorce.

The child’s best interests direct well crafted custodial orders.  California law balances two goals: First, ensuring “frequent and continuing” contact of the child with both parents. Second, safeguarding the “health, safety and welfare” of the child.  When these goals conflict, the safety of the child prevails. 

Child custody disputes can cause the most anxiety in a break up.  Your spouse may employ scare tactics as a manipulation strategy.  If so, consult an experienced family law attorney immediately.

The term “Physical Custody” concerns where children spend their time.  “Legal Custody” allows for decision making for the child (such as school selection).  Custody orders can be joint (both parents) or sole (to one parent alone).


Get expert legal guidance for custody arrangements

At Hughes Law Group, we help families in Sacramento and Placer County to negotiate child custody agreements that reflect the best interests of your child.

  • Legal support that puts your children first

  • Simplifying the legal process for your peace of mind

  • Reduce the stress and anxiety associated with contentious custody battles

Table of Contents

    Child Custody Process: What to Expect

    The following is intended to provide a basic overview of the child custody process to explain key concepts. It is not intended to cover all custody situations or court hearings.

    Basic Goal of Child Custody Orders and Judicial Viewpoint

    Children should spend time with both of their parents so long as doing so is safe. Parents can agree to a custody plan, or the court will make orders in the children’s best interests based on admissible evidence.  Custodial orders need to focus on the children's needs and their developmental stage, not necessarily what is most convenient or desired by a parent. Co-parenting is encouraged. Almost any custodial schedule with frequent exchanges and parental cooperation will work for children and remove them from the conflict.

    Understanding legal and physical custody concepts

    • Physical custody, whether joint or sole, establishes which parent the child will reside with. 
    • Legal Custody involves decision-making responsibilities.
    • Joint legal custody is a default arrangement. Either parent may make decisions when the children are with him or her. A parent may want exclusive power over a legal decision on a critical issue for the parent (e.g., religious training or elective medical care) in which case, sole legal custody (at least as to that issue) may be in the child’s best interest.

    Identifying safety issues for the child.

    Safety Issues can include domestic violence, abduction risk, a parent’s mental health issues (e.g., untreated mental illness, untreated depression), substance and alcohol abuse, or child abuse allegations. When alleged, the Court must consider the safety of the child and make appropriate orders for temporary custody with the other parent. The court will also consider visitation orders (frequently with supervision/monitoring conditions).

    Determine where you and the other parent agree.

    Low conflict families can communicate amicably. They can develop a parenting schedule and keep their children out of most conflicts.

    Approximately 60% of divorcing couples have at least moderate conflict (e.g., poor communication, tense exchanges, unclear designation of parenting responsibilities, unstable scheduling) yet still recognize that their children need a relationship with both parents. Developing structure now with unambiguous terms is likely to build civility over time.

    Even high conflict families can develop (partial) short-term and long-term agreements and work out strategies for interim steps. By definition, high conflict families are more in need of counseling and experienced family law counsel.

    Securing temporary custody orders from the court when the parties do not agree.

    Building your case

    • Drafting declarations that summarize a witness’ proposed testimony.

      A Request for Order must be supported by at least one declaration under penalty of perjury.  This is usually signed by one of the parties. A declaration is an opportunity to summarize the factual testimony the witness would provide to the court if s/he were in the witness stand at a trial. Declarations should contain facts only within the declarant’s personal knowledge and should not contain any legal arguments.

    • Securing other admissible evidence for hearings (e.g., criminal history, evidence of abuse, parenting class proof of completion). Note: When alleging “habitual, frequent, or continual illegal use of controlled substances or the habitual or continual abuse of alcohol” by a parent, Family Code §3041.5 lists the required proof necessary for the court to make that finding.

    • Drafting a Memorandum of Points and Authorities identifying and discussing applicable legal standards to overcome a burden of persuasion or defend an allegation. This is particularly helpful when the court has a discretionary legal issue to decide.

    Mandatory mediation (meeting with the social worker)

    • If the parties do not present a custody agreement, the court will order mandatory child custody recommending counseling and will receive a report from the social worker prior to making any non-emergency custody orders.
    • Deciding to use the court social worker or hiring a private social worker.
      The court provides child custody recommending counseling through its Office of Family Court Services free of charge. However, these services are typically limited to only one session in a six-month period. Private custody evaluations do not have those restrictions. 
    • Placer County Family Court Services uses a unique multiple “tier” system of confidential mediation and fact-finding. Placer County FCS evaluators no longer provide custody recommendations. Their reports are limited to a detailed fact finding for the parties and the court. However, the parties can still agree to private child custody recommending counseling with this form - Private CCRC Stipulation and Order
    • Sacramento County Family Court Services provides custody recommendations. The process for hiring a private social worker in Sacramento County for a custody dispute involves Sacramento County Local Rule 5.18 “Recommending Mediation: Referrals to Private Mediation

    Initial court hearing

    The Court reviews the Social Worker’s report and makes orders in the best interest of the children.

    After the parties have completed custodial mediation either at the Family Court Services office at the courthouse or with a Private Child Custody Evaluator, the court sets a short hearing on its law and motion calendar. The parties can make short arguments. The court has wide discretion to adopt the recommendations of the social worker, agree with one parental argument, or utilize its own judgment in making temporary custody orders in the best interests of the child.

    At the hearing, either of the parties may request a full custody trial. These are usually set months after the first hearing.

    Settlement Conference (mandatory when trial has been set)

    When the court sets a custody trial, it will also set a settlement conference approximately one week before the trial is scheduled to begin. Each party is required to file and serve a Statement of Issues and Contentions. A temporary judge supervises the settlement conference. 

    • Placer County Family Law Settlement Conferences are set in Department 30 on Friday mornings starting at 8:30 a.m. The Placer County judge will inform the parties of the deadlines for their Settlement Conference Statements at the Trial Setting Conference. For more information about Placer County’s procedures and requirements for Family Law Settlement Conferences see Placer County Local Rule 30.16 or this MANDATORY SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE GENERAL INFORMATION form.
    • Sacramento County Family Law Settlement Conferences are set in Department 128 and held on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. The hearing is calendared one week before a one-day trial and two weeks before a trial set for two or more days. For more information about Sacramento County’s procedures and requirements for Family Law Settlement Conferences see this INSTRUCTIONS FOR FAMILY LAW SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE AND TRIAL OR LONG CAUSE HEARING (TRIAL) form.

    Custody Trial (if required)

    • When a custody trial is set, there are many pre-trial deadlines which must be met to preserve your right to trial and to present evidence at trial.
    • One party may subpoena the child custody evaluator to the trial.
    • The California Rules of Evidence apply.
    • Witnesses testify by direct examination and are subject to cross examination.
    • The parties may provide opening statements and closing arguments.
    • After the trial is over, the Judge has 90 days to rule but usually announces the ruling from the bench that same day.

    Modification of Custody Orders

    Change of circumstances required.

    A Request for Order to Modify Child Custody orders is appropriate when there has been a significant and material change in circumstances from the most recent custody order. This change could be a child's unique needs, a parents' situation, or other relevant factors. Common reasons to modify a custody order are new safety concerns (drugs, alcohol, domestic violence), abuse of the child, intended parental relocation, child preference or violations of the current orders. If the new issue concerns an immediate danger or irreparable harm, an emergency request to modify custodial orders is appropriate. Otherwise, a modification process initiates with a Request for Order with the same procedures discussed above. 

    What should you tell a custody attorney during a consultation?

    Has any Court already made custody orders?  If so, try to bring them to the meeting.

    Are there present safety concerns?  Drugs, Alcohol or Criminal Activity?  Should a Domestic Violence Restraining Order be considered?

    Does your child have special needs?

    What do you believe is in your child’s best interests? Do you have a proposed custody plan?  Does your child express a clear desire (for whatever reason) to live with one parent over the other?

    How well do you and the other parent communicate?  Are both parents able to put the needs of their children first over their dislike for each other?

    Do you trust the other parent with the children?

    What are your immediate and long-term housing goals?  Will you be living near the other parent?  Does one of you plan on relocating (with or without the children)?

    Do you anticipate (or want) the children to change their current schools?  Does your employment situation allow you to transport the children to and from school?  If not, what is your plan for school days?

    How were the parenting tasks naturally divided while the parties lived together?  Which parent prepared meals, bathed the children, read them stories, played with them, put them to bed, supervised homework, coached teams, etc.?

    Which parent has attended parent-teacher conferences?  Who attends pediatrician and dental appointments?  How well do you know your child?  Do you know the names of your child’s teachers and best friends?  Do you know their clothing and shoe sizes?

    Do you have different parenting approaches?  Do you discipline differently?  Is one of parent a “spoiler” and more of a friend than a parent?  Does one parent disparage the other parent in front of the children?

    Does your family have special holiday or vacation traditions that would effect a custodial schedule?

    Our Client's Reviews

    Kelly B.

    Hughes Law Group helped me through a horrible divorce.  Helped me to stand up for what was right for my children.  They are very knowledgeable and ethical.  I highly recommend Hughes Law Group.