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What Are The Child Custody Laws In California?

Dec 22, 2022 | Family

Determining how custody will be shared between you and your child’s other parent can be one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. Navigating custody is not only highly emotional, but also legally complex. If you live in California, knowing what the laws and procedures are like regarding custody can help put your mind at ease; knowledge is power, and you may feel more confident making choices when you know how the law affects your specific situation (and therefore, what the right choices are!). 

Every family is different, the child custody laws in California are complex. The best course of action is to meet with an experienced California family law attorney who can answer your questions and give you a full understanding about what to expect. However, if you are at the beginning stages of the process, or you are a parent who is considering divorce and just wants to know your options, here’s a brief overview of the laws that may impact your next steps:

Two Types Of Custody

In California, there are two different spheres of custody – legal and physical. 

Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions about a child’s life, including where they will be educated, where they will receive healthcare (and what kind they will receive), what their religious upbringing will be like, etc. 

Physical custody refers to where the child will live most of the time and when/how parents will see the child. 

Note that parents are strongly encouraged to share both types of custody as much as possible and reasonable. However, while sharing legal custody may be easier to split 50/50, it may be more difficult to spend exactly equal time with each parent (particularly if the kids are in school and one parent lives farther, etc.). California will designate one parent as the “primary custodial” or “primary residential” parent. The other parent will be granted visitation rights. 

What Is Visitation?

Visitation is a schedule designed to ensure that the parent who doesn’t have as much physical custody still is able to have time with the children. This may mean alternating weekends, overnight visits, certain holidays being given to the noncustodial parent, and extended summer time. It will include pick up and drop off times, who is responsible for transporting the children, and other details. Again, if physical custody can be close to equally shared, visitation may not come into play. 

Sometimes, in the case of abuse or addiction, visitation will be restricted, or mandated to be supervised, or only allowed at a court-approved location. Visitation rights may be denied in extreme cases. 

What Is A Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is an agreement that lays out the details of the custody arrangement. It is very specific to your unique family’s circumstances. It spells out exactly where the children will live and when, how they will be cared for, who will provide for their financial needs, and what each parent’s roles and responsibilities are. The parenting plan must ultimately be in the child’s best interests, and a California court will either decide to approve what has already been created by the parents or create a parenting plan that the family will need to abide by. 

Why Should Parents Work Together?

Besides the fact that staying civil, limiting fighting, and collaborating on custody is easier on the kids (and on your own mental and emotional health), it also gives you the most control over what your lives and your relationship with your children will look like. If you and the other parent can’t agree to work out your issues (and doing this with a mediator or lawyer is highly recommended – just because you can’t seem to agree without professionals helping doesn’t mean you won’t be able to with their help!), a judge will end up having the final say. A judge is a stranger who doesn’t know your family dynamics or family history. Any time California family court is involved, the expense of your case will also increase dramatically, as will the time it takes to reach a resolution. Working together is the cheapest, fastest, easiest, and best way to do custody! 

What Factors Does A Judge Consider?

If a judge will decide your case (or when they are reviewing the parenting plan you submitted jointly), you should know that the child custody laws in California presume that both parents are entitled to custody rights until proven otherwise. The judge will then look at a variety of factors to determine what the parenting plan should be like, including: 

  • The child’s connection with both parents
  • The child’s health and financial needs
  • The child’s relationships with their community (school, friends, church, extended family, etc.)
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child
  • Each parent’s ability to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
  • Whether either or both parents have a history of substance abuse
  • Each parent’s career and living situation
  • The child’s age and preferences, if old enough to express their wishes (California gives more weight to the wishes of a child over 14). 
  • And more.

Call Equal Justice Law Group For A Free Custody Consultation

In the end, the child custody laws in California and the parenting plan that is reached will affect every part of your and your children’s lives. This is part of the reason custody can be so scary and frustrating – it has big, day-to-day impacts. That’s why it’s so important to enlist the right legal guidance from the start so you can avoid mistakes and work towards the ideal outcome. 

Equal Justice Law Group keeps the process as smooth as possible for parents! Our compassionate and knowledgeable attorneys, led by managing attorney David Foyil, will invite you into the process and explain all of your options without using legal jargon. To us, every client is a partner! We will take care of the paperwork and representing you so you can take care of your kids and lay a strong foundation for your future. Call today to schedule a consultation!

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