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Child Custody in California:
What Parents Need To Know

In California, it is possible for one parent to obtain sole custody of a child or to share custody in an organized way. Judges usually go along with any plan that the parents submit that covers custody and visitation rights. So both parents need to be informed about the custody process. Also, they should set their differences aside and collaborate for the benefit of their child.

Understanding Custody and Visitation Issues

The state of California tasks judges with making custody and visitation decisions, if the parents cannot agree on a plan. Custody is divided into two main types: legal custody and physical custody. These rights can be shared among parents and relatives.

Legal Custody

Legal custody involves the person who makes the decisions about important aspects of a child's life — such as education, welfare, and health care.Sharing the decision-making process allows for a sense of stability for your child.

Parents often opt for joint legal custody, and one parent assumes physical custody with visitation rights for the other parent. However, this setting can become a legal battleground for parents if they cannot agree on a system that suits them both. It is important to show understanding and support each other in offering what is best for your kid.

Physical Custody

Physical custody defines who controls and supervises the daily living circumstances of the child. This can be granted to just one of the parents or it can be shared. But remember to carefully consider even the early decisions during your custody case, as it can have consequences later on. It is best to start with a lawyer by your side to help guide you through the process.

The Decision Making Process

When parents share joint legal custody, they make decisions about the following issues:

  • School choice
  • Choice of child care providers
  • Religious activities
  • Choice of doctor, hospital, and mental health facilities
  • Travel opportunities
  • Where children live
  • Sports, summer camps, and other extracurricular activities

Usually, the parents get together to decide these issues, but one parent can make a final decision. However, a parent needs to inform the other about major life choices, or they will both end up back in court to fight out issues on which they can’t agree.

Joint Custody

Joint physical custody is often preferred by judges since it allows both parents to be active participants in their kid’s life. Physical custody doesn’t require an even 50-50 split. This agreed-upon schedule can include 70% and 30% splits among other shared custody arrangements.

This option works best if a series of conditions are met. To start, proximity is important. If the parents live close-by it will make it easier for the child to move between houses. Also, this ensures consistency with school and the friend circle. It is beneficial for a child to have a degree of stability in their education. An arrangement like this will also be easier for the parents.

What is more, it is recommended that parents have a similar parenting style, so that the child can grow up with a stable set of values. If there are notable differences in how parents individually handle day to day incidents, this might confuse the child. It is best to sit down and have a serious talk about how to implement a stable system.

For example one of the parents might enact certain restrictions as punishment when the kid misbehaves, while the other will simply ignore such acts. This can make the child question the importance and consequence of their actions.

Sole Custody Issues

Sole physical custody can be granted to one of the parents if they have the child for the majority of the time. This leaves the other party with regular visits that were scheduled in advance. Such allocated periods are called visitation or parenting time.

In situations like this, the mother is often favored to become the custodial parent. If the father is the noncustodial parent, he can have the child for weekends or other set days during the week. But the schedule can be adapted by the parents to best suit their lifestyle.

Judges use precedent and California State family codes to guide them in making custody and visitation decisions, but one fact remains inviolate — the codes are weighted in favor of the best interests of the child. Read more about how to win a child custody case in California.

The basic fact is that judges don’t like making these decisions unless there’s a compelling reason for monitoring visitation in cases where one parent is deemed unqualified.

How Judges Decide Custody Issues

First, judges pass the authority along to a state-sanctioned mediator. The basic premise is that parents know what is best for their child, and mediation gives parents the chance to step back and consider the issue without emotional baggage.

When mom and dad think they know best and suggest diametrically opposite approaches, mediation won’t work. That’s when the process falls into the judge’s lap for a decision that the judge doesn’t want to make.

The judge studies each child's school records and will often conduct a confidential interview with the child. California family codes address thousands of issues, but some are not covered.

Notable exceptions to the process of using sound judgment to decide these issues occur when substance abuse or domestic violence is involved. Both issues pose a substantial and real threat to a child’s welfare, and the judge’s power to award joint custody or visitation is severely curtailed by the family codes.

Special Circumstances

Other issues involved with custody and visitation include grandparents' rights, getting supervised visitation rights, and developing a parenting plan that’s acceptable to both parties.

Even substance abusers and physical abusers love their kids, and they can request parenting time initially during divorce proceedings or after having their visits limited by the court.

An Attorney’s Advice

Seeking an attorney’s advice and expertise in family law issues is the best step any parent can take who wants to maintain contact and a familial relationship with the children of divorce.


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