Reporter Evangelia Ganosellis of News-Press.com reported a story of child custody, visitation and alleged child abduction which raises many family law issues that occur every time a family court issues a custody-visitation order. Reportedly, Neil and Shannon Little shared custody pursuant to a March 2010 divorce judgment. Under California family law, "joint custody" means that the parties share legal custody and physical custody rights. The order may be structured in a way that neither parent has greater rights than the other parent. Back to the story--Reportedly, Neil picked up the eleven year old son according to his parenting time, but did not return the child to the mother at the end of his parenting time. In fact, according to the report, Neil "took off" with the child, not returning the child to the mother.
Reportedly, Neil's action led to a criminal warrant which led to publicity as to the alleged crime and the child was found in February 2011, four months after the alleged abduction. As a San Diego Certified Family Law Specialist attorney my office daily works with the issues reported in this story. How does a parent go from joint custody to a criminal warrant? Should joint custody be ordered in cases where great conflict exists? What should a father, in Neil's situation do, when he believes the custody order needs further change? What should a mother, in Shannon's position, do when the father violates a custody order? Let's explore these questions as these situations come up surprisingly more frequently than one would think.
Under California law, custody orders are to be made according to the best interest of the child. In the reported story, there is no information as to whether a court ordered joint custody or whether the parents simply agreed to joint custody. In my experience, joint custody works best when two parents can effectively work together in a co-parenting arraignment. By working together, they put aside their arguments and marital issues and amicably parent when in the presence of the child. Combative parents probably should not have joint custody.