In California, there are two ways to determine how child custody matters are settled. The parents may come to an agreement on their own or a judge may make a ruling for them. If a judge creates a parenting plan, there are several issues that will be taken into account when so doing. In some cases, a temporary order may be issued if there are pressing matters that need to be resolved immediately.
For example, if the new school year is approaching, an immediate decision as to where that child goes to school may necessary. If a parent wishes to relocate with the child, that is another matter that may be decided before a more permanent ruling is made. Prior to any ruling being made, both parents will be asked to see a trained counselor in an effort to come to a custody agreement outside of court.
Even if the parents do not come to an agreement, the counselor may in some counties make recommendations to the judge. However, in other counties the contents of the session are kept confidential. It may also be possible that an attorney will be appointed to represent the children if the judge suspects physiological issues with the parents.
Every effort is made to help parents come to a parenting plan on their own. During this process, it may be beneficial for an individual to consult with a family law attorney who may be able to help establish that it would be in the child's best interest to spend as much time with that parent as possible. An attorney may also be useful in blocking a parent from relocating with a child, which may prevent the client from exercising his or her parental rights.
Source: The State Bar of California , "What should I know about divorce and custody? ", October 29, 2014