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Q: What type of case is it if I was never married to the other parent?

A: These cases are commonly referred to as “paternity” cases. If parents are married at the time their child is born, the law presumes the couple to be the child’s parents. If the parents were not married when the child was born, they become the child’s legal parents by “establishing paternity.”

Q: How do I establish who the father of my child is? How do I prove that I am the father of my child?

A: Parentage of a child can be established in one of three ways: 1) the father signs a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (commonly referred to as a “Pop Dec”); 2) through the local child support agency; or 3) by one parent going to Court and requesting that parentage be established.

Q: I heard that if we fight over custody or visitation of our children, we will have to go to mediation. What is that?

A: Mediation, which has now been renamed to “Child Custody Recommending Services,” is required if there is a custody or visitation dispute between parents. This process is intended to be positive and of benefit to parents. Rather than relying on a judge to make a decision regarding your children, the mediation process tries to empower parents to determine what is best for their children.

Q: I have heard that there are different kinds of child custody. What are they?

A: There are two types of custody, legal and physical. Legal custody relates to which parent has the right to make decisions about issues such as education, school, and medical care.

Physical custody determines which parent has the right to physically have the children with him or her, absent the other parent’s right of visitation.

Custody awards are usually expressed in terms of joint and sole. Joint custody means that both parents share in the rights associated with the particular form of custody, sole custody means one parent has the rights.

Q: I have heard that the courts are really backed up. What if I need help now?

A: It usually takes about two months before you can see a judge, but with the current California budget cuts, it may take up to four months.

There is a process called an “ex parte request” that allows you to receive a Court date much faster if the judge determines that there is an emergency. Usually these emergencies relate to minor children. For example, if one parent moved out of state and took the children with them, a judge is likely to want to hear your case sooner rather than later.

Q: If I have a criminal conviction, can I still get custody of our children?

A: It is possible to still share custody of your children with the other parent even if you have a criminal background, but if you have been convicted of domestic violence or are a registered sex offender, it will be much more difficult to share custody.

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