The following process is used by the Family Law Courts to determine custody and visitation. This is an overview and not always followed by every Family Law Court.
1. If the parties agree on custody and visitation, the parties will sign a Stipulation (an agreement) agreeing to the custody and visitation agreement.
2. IF NOT, THEN: An Order To Show Cause Re: Child Custody and Visitation is filed with the court. However, before the court hears the matter, the following occurs:
3. CUSTODY MEDIATION SERVICES FROM THE CONCILIATION COURT: The parties are ordered to attend Conciliation Court where a the parties meet with a highly trained child social worker, Ph.D., etc., and with the assistance of this person try to work out a custody and visitation schedule. The parties are not required to reach an agreement. If an agreement is reached, then a stipulation is prepared, signed by the parties, reviewed by the attorneys and submitted to the court for approval. IF AN AGREEMENT IS NOT REACHED, THEN:
4. The parties proceed to the Order To Show Cause. ( An Order To Show Cause is a special hearing in the family law courts where the Judge decides certain limited issues pertaining to issues of the divorce) But, before the court makes final orders regarding custody and Visitation, (temporary orders usually are made) , the Court will usually order a CHILD EVALUATION STUDY. A Child Evaluation Study is when the Court appoints a private social worker, master of Social Work, psychologist, or psychiatrist, to perform an in-depth study to determine the proper custody and vitiation. This can take up to 4 months and cost a minimum of $5,000 to $15,000 and up depending on the evaluator. The report is given to the attorneys and there is a court hearing regarding the findings and recommendations.
If one side wishes to contest the findings, a trial can be scheduled by the court. Otherwise, the court usually adopts the findings as its court order for custody and visitation. This remains the custody and visitation order until it is changed by agreement of the parties or order of court.
5. BE ADVISED: Any time there is a "change of circumstance" a party may ask to modify the custody and visitation schedule. If so, the entire above process discussed above, begins again.