Settling Child Custody and Visitation in California: 3 Steps

Judges, lawyers and other family law professionals consider settling the best way to resolve most custody disputes. Settling means parents reach an agreement and file with the court to make it a final order.

The process keeps decision-making in the parents' hands and often leads to less animosity, faster resolution and significant cost savings. Because of these benefits, California requires parents to attend mediation and settlement conferences (both designed to facilitate a settlement) before they begin a trial.

You can also reach a settlement outside of court via private mediation, collaborative law or informal negotiation.

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Once you've negotiated a parenting plan, follow the steps below to file your settlement. (The steps may vary slightly by county.) You can do this anytime after you open a family law case. Ask your court whether it requires any special forms for settlements.

If you have an attorney, they will guide you through this process. If not, visit your local family law facilitator or self-help center for assistance.

Step 1: Complete your paperwork

First, you'll need to complete a Stipulation and Order for Custody and/or Visitation of Children. It works like a cover sheet, listing all the documents you want approved as part of your custody and visitation agreement.

Your next documents detail your agreement. You can submit them in any format, as long as they meet the legal requirements. If you submit a Custody X Change parenting plan and schedule, you're ready to skip to Step 2.

If you don't want to use your own forms, you can submit California's standard Child Custody and Visitation Order Attachment. Then decide if you want to attach any of the following:

Make sure to have all your forms reviewed by an attorney, a family law facilitator, or someone in your superior court's self-help center.

Step 2: Get a judge's signature

Turn in the completed forms and two copies to your judge.

In most cases, judges will approve any agreement that isn't detrimental to the child, but they may be less likely to give the green light if your family has had problems with drug use, domestic abuse or neglect.

You can pick up the forms once the judge has signed.

Step 3: File with the court clerk

Next, take all three versions of your judge-approved documents to the court clerk. The court will keep the originals, and each parent will receive copies stamped as "filed."

Your agreement is now a final order. Keep it in a safe place.

If ever you want to modify the order, you can repeat the above process to submit an agreed-upon change to the court. If you and the other parent don't agree on the modification, you can ask the court to make a decision or try an alternative method of dispute resolution.

After you've settled

The custody journey continues after you receive final orders. Now your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more, use Custody X Change.

The online app's customizable calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, expense tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as they made settlement itself.

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