Child Custody

San Francisco Child Custody Lawyer

“Sometimes a good outcome is very clear – getting a restraining order against an abusive spouse, or getting spousal support against a spouse who’s hiding income. Other times, a good outcome is far more nuanced. Without fail, all of our best outcomes, our big wins, come about because only one side did the work. And a big, big part of that is deeply understanding the people involved and what makes them tick.”

Amy Laughlin


If you’re a parent who’s hoping to truly address your child’s best interest, you may have been searching online for the best child custody lawyers in San Francisco, California. That’s a great place to start! But what exactly does ‘best child custody lawyers in San Francisco’ mean?

Amy Laughlin, Founder & Partner of Laughlin Legal Divorce and Family Law Group and an experienced child custody lawyer in San Francisco, has some thoughts on the subject.

“Divorce can bring out the worst in even the best people. And one of the most challenging, most emotionally charged aspects of divorce is child custody. In my professional opinion, the best child custody lawyers in San Francisco are the lawyers who are the best listeners and the most creative problem solvers.

Every family has its idiosyncrasies. No two are alike. And no two custody orders should be identical. But you can’t write a healthy custody agreement and a happy outcome for a family that’s breaking up unless you’re finely attuned to what your client is saying… and not saying. You have to ask the appropriate questions to get the fullest understanding of how each family functions.

As a child custody attorney in San Francisco who’s also a parent, I think it’s appropriately challenging and emotional because the long term consequences of a child custody settlement agreement are significant for both the parents and the children. It’s best to get it right the first time. Though it’s legally possible to amend your existing child custody order, there’s no guarantee that your ex will agree to it. And if your ex won’t agree to it, you’ll need a judge to issue a new order.

The long term consequences I’m talking about are the social and emotional consequences. Study after study has shown that the vast majority of children who don’t have a meaningful, healthy relationship with both of their parents will not do as well throughout their life. They’re more likely to have behavioral issues, and both mental and physical health disorders. They’re more likely to have trouble with relationships.

Children whose parents are getting a divorce in California are fortunate in that the state presumes that joint custody is in the best interest of most children. There are exceptions, but generally speaking children will benefit from a joint custody arrangement, and the state of California supports that.”


San Francisco child custody attorney, Amy Laughlin, again… “There are any number of factors that can influence a 50/50 custody arrangement.

Let’s say one of the children has a health issue and only one parent is in a position to provide care for that child. Or perhaps one of the parents has a mental health disorder or substance abuse problem either of which could adversely affect the child or children. Certainly if there is a restraining order in place against one of the parents, that could eliminate any possibility of custody for that parent.

Something we often see in complex custody cases that can have a big impact on a custody order is parental alienation where one parent intentionally tries to damage the relationship the child has with the other parent. Whether they manipulate the child’s feelings by making negative comments about the other parent or telling negative stories about the other parent, the objective is to make the child reject or fear the other parent and strengthen the manipulating parent’s claim to either majority or sole custody of the child or children.

But parents, whether you’ve even spoken of divorce or not, if you suspect that the other parent is trying to alienate your child, take note: time is not on your side. They might have shared with your child – long before they’ve shared with you – that they’re going to divorce you. Not uncommon. And they very well may have shared why. I find that this alienation scenario is particularly bad when you have teens. Emotions run high for teens and they also run hot and cold. Subtlety isn’t typically a characteristic of the teenage years! Teens are often easily persuaded to switch sides and they back it up with intensity. Sadly, they may pay an emotional price for it for the rest of their life.

A National Institute of Health article published on in 2022 titled The Impact of Parental Alienating Behaviors on the Mental Health of Adults Alienated in Childhood stated that ‘parental alienation has been defined by some as a serious mental condition in children exposed to parental alienating behaviors… A study examining the experiences of 40 alienated adult children in North America found that alienating parents used similar tactics to cult leaders to alienate the child from the targeted parent.’ It’s not unusual for children of alienating parents to experience ‘mental health difficulties, including anxiety disorders and trauma reactions, emotional pain, addiction and substance use, and coping and resilience.’ And it doesn’t necessarily stop with just the children. The article states that the negative effects of parental alienation can be intergenerational!

I had an alienation case several years ago. I was representing the mother in a complex child custody case where the father told his 12 year old daughter that he was going to divorce her mother. And he gave his daughter all kinds of false horrible reasons why – her mother was a cheater, she was a liar, she was going to cut her out of the trust, etc. And the daughter, who had had a very close relationship with her mother, recorded the conversation on her phone without the father knowing it and shared it with her mother because she was horrified by the things she had learned. Well the mother had no idea that her husband was planning to divorce her much less manipulating their daughter against her with all sorts of fabricated stories. But the stories worked. And the daughter rejected her mother for no good reason.”


Amy Laughlin, among the best child custody lawyers in San Francisco, answers, “The way I try to work with clients involved in a parental alienation case in California, whichever side they’re on, is to manage the situation without allowing it to escalate. This is where listening and creative problem solving enter the picture.

The more I understand all three parties involved – the mom, the dad, and the child or children – the better I can steer them away from heated litigation which tends to cause two of those parties, generally the mom and children, to become even more entrenched in their position. I’ll always suggest therapy for both parents and the children, it certainly can’t hurt. And I’ll also get a coparent counselor involved.

A coparent counselor is a professional who works with parents who are going through a separation or divorce to learn new techniques for managing their anger and disappointment, and for talking about and negotiating their shared parental responsibilities. It can help them find a resolution over things.

So I’ll ask both parents to agree to participate in coparent counseling, and while I’m at it, I’ll also ask both parents to agree to sign a mutual non-disparagement order which bars parents from speaking negatively about the other parent either to the children or in front of the children whether they have cause to or not. It also bars the extended family from doing the same.

In my experience, when you ask for both the coparent counseling and a signed mutual non-disparagement order, typically, the parent who’s being alienated says sure, no problem, I’ll do whatever you want, sign whatever you want. They’re very motivated to retain a relationship with their child or children.

As for the alienating parent, you find out very quickly where they stand because how could someone justify not signing a non-disparagement order? And as a child custody lawyer in California, it’s my job to protect their children, first. So if the alienating parent won’t sign, we make the non-disparagement order an order of the court. But even if they do sign, they are very often not in control of their runaway emotions. And if they persist in maligning the other parent, they’ll be acting in violation of a court order and could be found in contempt of court, go to jail, and lose custody.

Though parental alienation is not a crime in California, what I feel so many parents fail to understand is that even though a child may identify more with one parent than another, they feel as if they’re a product of both parents, 50/50. So when you verbally attack the other parent to make them look bad – accusing them of being selfish, or crazy or incapable of love or narcissistic, etc. – the child feels as if one half of him or herself is bad. That can take a long, long time to recover from.

As a child custody lawyer in San Francisco who has been practicing for many years, though I can see the red flags of parental alienation early on, what a child custody lawyer advises and what the parents will accept is not necessarily what gets written into the custody order. A judge will ultimately decide what the best custody arrangement will be. And fortunately, the San Francisco judges and judges all over Northern California are very sophisticated with regard to the warning signs of alienation, and very skilled at assessing what’s best for each family.”


It means highly experienced child custody lawyers who dig in deep to successfully resolve legal disputes that are also human disputes. The ‘best child custody lawyers near me’ won’t hustle you or hassle you or lecture you. They’ll listen and advocate.

At Laughlin Legal, our skilled child custody mediators and child custody attorneys help parents achieve the custody or parenting time they deserve. We also provide a number of other custody-related services such as establishing paternity or seeking permission for relocation if a parent wants to move with the children during or after a divorce. We are trusted throughout California for our ability to understand and secure our clients’ needs.


requires the services of a divorce lawyer and addresses all the same issues as divorce regarding asset division, custody, and support, but the couple remains married though living separate and apart.

is the process of determining the status of the assets, then dividing them up equitably between the divorcing spouses. There are generally two categories of assets. Marital assets are those accumulated over the duration of the marriage.

are those acquired after the marriage but before legal separation or divorce.

are gifts or inheritances, or assets acquired either before the marriage or after legal separation. Be warned: assets aren’t the only thing considered to be marital. Debt, too, can be divided and shared.

can be a significant consideration when determining asset division. For instance, claiming children as dependents, or capital gains tax from selling a property.

formerly known as alimony, is what one spouse may be ordered to pay to the other spouse. Even recipients of spousal support have an obligation to attempt to become self-supporting within a reasonable period. This is one of the most contentious aspects of divorce and it’s essential to work with an experienced spousal support lawyer to achieve a fair resolution.

refers to the determination of how the parents divide the rights and responsibilities of taking care of their child or children. A good child custody lawyer will tell you there are two types of custody, legal and physical, and advise you on the best options for gaining or retaining custody of your child or children. The legal custodian makes important decisions for the children and their welfare. The physical custodian lives with the children more than 50% of the time.

in California is calculated using a statutory or guideline formula that considers parents’ gross income from all sources, number of children, amount of time children spend with each parent, tax filing status, and special needs of the children. When a parent refuses to pay child support, a child support lawyer either seeks an order for child support or holds the ex-spouse legally responsible for inadequate or missing payments.

are orders issued by the court – such as temporary child custody orders or temporary spousal support orders – before the case goes to trial to establish boundaries and maintain the family’s status quo until a final divorce and/or custody agreement is entered and approved by the court.

couples have the same divorce rights as any couple, and there may be special considerations with parental and property rights.

though prevalent, is often difficult to prove in part because abusers can be stealthy but also because physical violence is just one of many forms. For instance, it’s challenging to prove verbal abuse without witnesses. It’s essential that victims of abuse work with an experienced domestic violence lawyer successful at obtaining restraining orders.

Case Story

A Complex Divorce Client In Their Own Words

“Found them on Google search. I interviewed other attorneys. It’s an important decision and my case was complicated enough that I wasn’t going to just go off a website. I chose them for a couple reasons. I was ideally interested in someone whose offices were fairly local, didn’t want to go up to San Francisco. Also, I had a lot to sort through financially and saw that Amy was experienced with complex divorce. She impressed me with the range of cases she worked on, I felt she ‘got’ my situation. And it was a positive that she was a woman. A woman’s perspective and the perception of my then-partner would be a plus.

The experience surpassed my expectations. It was mediated so we managed to stay out of court. Amy provided really good counsel. I felt confident in her expertise. She was aggressive when needed and flexible when needed. I felt a high level of competence. Their working style was very important to me. Other thing, too, I only half joke about this but being a family law attorney is also part therapist, the ability to help me be centered throughout the process was important.

Their team approach was important. Both good thought partners and that’s important for me. I don’t just outsource stuff, I like to think things through. Not all attorneys like that. Caitlin was able to step in and help out on a couple of issues. I used Caitlin for the prenup because she’s really good. She did a really good job.

Responsiveness is key. Other attorneys I’ve worked with have hard boundaries – after 5 or on the weekends? Not available. When Amy was on vacation she still called in. That was great. And Caitlin made herself available nights, weekends, and I really appreciated that.

These cases can be frustrating. They helped me successfully navigate two fairly tricky marital situations, divorce and prenup, neither of which was easy and do it in a way that got good solutions. They did a great job.

Flexible, responsive. Put in a good fight. Focused on trying to get things done. Not trying to run up the fees. I’ve recommended them.”


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This post is going to start and end with the same sentence because I want to make sure everyone gets the message: No

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