How Long Does a Custody Case Take in California?

Understanding Child Custody in California

Determining child custody in California can be a lengthy and complex process. If you’re starting the process of determining child custody, it is important to understand the legalities, timelines, and court processes involved. This blog post will provide an overview of what to expect from the child custody process in California and tackle some of the common questions concerning how long a custody case can take.

How Long Is the Custody Case Process?

The courts in California take parenting plans very seriously, as they want to ensure that both parents are able to participate in their children's upbringing. As such, the courts will look for evidence that both parties are committed to providing a healthy and nurturing environment for their children.

The court may consider factors such as the parents' financial and emotional stability, as well as any history of domestic violence or drug use. Ultimately, the court's goal is to determine which parent is best suited to provide a safe and loving home for their children.

Generally speaking, it can take several weeks if not months before an agreement is reached between both parties. However, the amount of time it takes to go through the child custody process varies depending on each individual case.

Here are some specific factors that can affect the length of a child custody case:

  • Litigation vs. mediation. With child custody mediation, the length of time a case can take depends on the complexity of the issues being discussed and how quickly all parties can reach an agreement on these issues. You and the other party generally set the pace of mediation. In cases where there is disagreement or contention between both parties, it can take much longer before a final decision is issued by the court, and you will have to adhere to the court’s hearing schedule.
  • Allegations of abuse, neglect, or other issues. If either parent has a history of substance abuse, child abuse/neglect, or domestic violence (or allegations of this are made), the case can take longer as these allegations will need to be investigated.
  • The judge assigned to your case. Judges can take as much time as they deem necessary to analyze the details of your case before setting more hearing fates and can ask parents to appear in court multiple times. Other judges may only ask for you to attend court once before submitting their judgment. Your attorney should have insight into how certain judges work.

What to Expect in the Child Custody Process

If you decide to mediate custody, you, the other party, and the mediator can outline your plans for each mediation session and set a schedule. The court process is different and involves the following steps:

  1. File your petition. The process begins when either parent files a request for custody order at a county court. After filing this order, the other party will be served with a copy of the order and can file a response.
  2. Have an emergency hearing (in some cases). In instances where a parent believes their child to be in danger with the other parent, you can request an expedited hearing where emergency temporary orders can be issued.
  3. Attend court-ordered mediation. Parents must attend mediation and can meet with a court-appointed mediator to attempt to come to an agreement.
  4. Attend an initial hearing. If parents did not come to an agreement in mediation, they will then meet with a judge. However, it is important to note that parents may have their initial hearing before mediation depending on your filing county’s procedures. During the hearing, each party (or their counsel) can present their evidence and argument concerning parenting time and custody. At the conclusion of this stage, a judge can give temporary custody orders (for the duration of the proceedings), order a child custody evaluation to be completed by a mental health professional, appoint the child(ren) legal counsel, and/or order another hearing or a trial.
  5. Complete a trial. A trial is essentially a longer, more formal hearing where both parties can present more evidence, question witnesses, and argue their case. In some cases, before or during your trial, the judge may ask to have a conference with both parties to discuss the case. At the conclusion of the trial, the court will make its final decision.
  6. Obtain your final order. The final step occurs when the judge signs the final custody order.

Consult with Our Family Law Attorneys

Determining child custody can be a difficult process but understanding what steps are involved can help make it easier for all involved parties. It’s important to note that while each case will vary depending on its own unique set of circumstances, there are certain general guidelines that everyone should follow when navigating through this complicated legal process in California family law courts.

At The Neshanian Law Firm, Inc, our experienced child custody attorneys can help you stay informed about your rights and answer the case-related questions you may have. If you are concerned about the timeline concerning your case, we can also discuss what the best options are for you and your family (i.e. mediation vs. litigation).

To schedule a confidential case consultation, call (949) 577-7935 or complete our online contact form.