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Understanding Child Custody in California

Are you involved in a custody dispute? Many people are confused by and misuse custody terminology. There are two types of custody – Legal and Physical. California law favors joint physical and legal custody; however, if the parents don't agree to joint physical and legal custody, there is no starting presumption either for or against joint custody.

What Is the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody?

"Legal custody" refers to the parents authority to participate in making major decisions about a child's health, education and welfare. "Sole legal custody" means only one parent has the right to make such decisions. If both parents share the right and responsibility to make these decisions, they have "joint legal custody." With a joint legal custody order, either parent acting alone, may make decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child unless there are specific orders in place requiring the consent of both parents.

"Physical custody" refers to the right and responsibility to care for and supervise the child. "Joint physical custody" means that each parent will have significant periods of physical custody. "Sole physical custody" means that a child resides with and is under the supervision of one parent; the other parent (the non-custodial parent) may have the right to visitation if a court believes visitation is in the child's best interests.

Parents have joint custody if the child lives with each parent for significant periods of time. Joint physical custody does not mean that a child's time will be evenly divided between each parent. Sometimes, the terms primary physical custody or shared physical custody are used. These are used most often when issues of income tax deductions or residency for school attendance are present. Neither of these terms increase or reduce the importance of either parent. Sometimes, it is not possible for a child to spend equal time with each parent. The time each parent spends with their child is referred to as their custodial time or visitation schedule.

What Will the Court Order?

Judges evaluating custody cases in California must consider two guiding policies in making a custody order. First is the best interests of the children and second is ensuring that both parents have frequent and continuing contact with their children. Both parents begin with equal rights to custody; a judge is not permitted to give a preference to either parent based upon the parent's sex. When looking at the best interest of the child, the court considers the following:

  • The child's health
  • Their safety
  • Their present and future welfare

When it comes to ensuring frequent and continuing contact, the court must make sure this is in the best interest of the children. According to California law, it is public policy to encourage the continuation of parenting for both parents after a separation or divorce. Ideally, each parent would share the rights and responsibilities of parenting their children. The only exception to this policy of dual parenting is if the best interest of the child is brought into question.Sometimes this may not be in the best interest of the child—in which case, the court may award sole custody.

Have more questions about your custody case? Let The Law Office of Stephanie J. Squires & Associates, APLC guide you through this difficult time. Contact my firm today to discuss your options with a seasoned Rancho Cucamonga divorce lawyer!

Categories: Family Law, Custody
The Law Office of Stephanie J. Squires & Associates, APLC 909-907-8783

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