Child Custody

What is legal custody? 
Legal custody refers to a parent’s right and responsibility to make decisions regarding a child’s health, safety, and welfare.

What is the difference between sole legal and joint legal custody? 
If only one parent is awarded sole legal custody, that parent, acting alone, may make decisions regarding issues such as medical care, enrollment in a particular school, etc.

If both parents have joint legal custody, then both parents share in the right and responsibility to make decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child(ren).

What is physical custody? 
Physical custody refers to the right of a parent to have a child(ren) live with you.

What is the difference between sole physical and joint physical custody? 
Sole physical custody means that a child shall reside with and be under the supervision of one parent, subject to the power of the court to order visitation to the other parent.

What is joint custody?

Joint physical custody means that each parent shall have significant periods of physical custody of a child(ren). Under a joint physical custody arrangement, the parties can agree to share parenting time with the child(ren) in a variety of ways, taking into consideration a child’s age, school schedule, distance between the parents’ respective homes, parents’ work schedules, etc.

Absent domestic violence, drug/alcohol abuse or other extenuating circumstances, Courts typically want to encourage parents to share the responsibilities of parenthood and time with the children to ensure that the parent-child relationship survives a divorce. Also, parents who have a continuing relationship with their children post-separation are more likely to support their children and pay for their financial needs.

What is a parenting plan?

Negotiating a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child can be difficult when parents do not agree. Also, sometimes there are hidden reasons why one parent may want more custodial time with a child. One parent may want more time with the child(ren) so that he/she does not have to pay more child support than would otherwise be the case. If you suspect this is the real motivation of the other parent, then you may wish to consult with an attorney about your options.

You and the other parent can agree to a parenting plan outside of court. Free mediation services are available through the courts to assist you in coming up with a reasonable plan tailored to your child(ren)’s specific needs.

What happens if we cannot agree to a parenting plan on our own?
Both parents are required to take the PACT class and attend mediation. See our section entitled PACT for more information. If you are unable to reach an agreement regarding custody and visitation, then the Judge will decide the matter at a court hearing.

What may the Judge consider in making a court order for custody and visitation? 
The Judge will consider all relevant facts such as:

  • Which parent is currently the primary caregiver of the child(ren)
  • The child(ren)’s age and developmental needs, taking into account a child(ren)’s need for stability and consistency
  • The public policy of the state of California to ensure frequent and continuing contact with both parents
  • The effects of changing the child(ren)’s residence, school, or lifestyle
  • Past abuse or neglect by either parent, or abuse of drugs/alcohol by either parent
  • The parenting skills of both parents, including each parent’s willingness to promote an ongoing relationship with the other parent
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