When my spouse and I separate, what happens to our children?

The best solution is for you and your spouse to agree on who will take care of the children. It could be either of you or the two of you may want to share the responsibility. In California, county superior court judges make the final decision. But, in most cases, a judge will approve a custody plan that both parents want. (Juries are never used in child custody cases.) If you agree on a custody arrangement, you or your lawyer should attach a written copy of your plan to the divorce or separation papers you eventually file with the court. The agreement doesn't have to be in fancy language. However, if you and your spouse cannot agree, then the first question is who gets "temporary custody" of the children. The parent who has temporary custody takes care of the children until a long-term decision is made. Either you or your spouse may ask a judge for temporary custody. Suppose you and your spouse do not agree. Then, in most cases, a judge does not make a decision until you and your spouse have talked with a mediator or counselor who will try to help you reach an agreement. (See # 2) Some lawyers advise clients who want long-term custody to start by asking for temporary custody. They believe judges tend to grant long-term custody to the parent who already is caring for the children. But, even if you do not ask for temporary custody, you still may be able to get long-term custody later on. Suppose you are afraid that your spouse might move to another state with your children. You stand a much better chance of preventing this and keeping the custody proceedings in the California court system if you have temporary custody. Even if you do not receive temporary custody, you may need to ask a judge to issue a "temporary restraining order." This says that neither of you can take the children out of the state without the other's written consent or a court order. What if your spouse has been violent or threatened to hurt you or your children? You or your lawyer may ask the judge for an order that says your spouse cannot enter your home. Usually, a judge will give your spouse a chance to explain his or her side before issuing this order. It is a good idea to talk with a lawyer early on even if you and your spouse agree about custody arrangements. A lawyer can tell you about your rights and duties concerning your children as well as about property and support matters. A lawyer will also know whether you should file for custody in California or in another state. (See # 11)