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California Child Custody Laws You Should Know

Divorce is one of the most stressful experiences anyone can go through, but it doesn’t compare to fighting for the right to see your children. Custody battles are incredibly damaging to the mental health of everyone involved, especially the kids.

The Law Office of Laurence J. Brock has extensive experience handling all sorts of child custody cases and has seen firsthand the distress they can wreak on a family. Reach out for more information about the child custody lawyers that can inform and impact your case. 

How is Custody Decided in California?

In California, custody determinations are made by determining what will be in the child’s best interest. Both parents have equal entitlement to custody, and the judge is unbiased at the start of the evaluation.

To determine what would arrangement would be in the child’s best interest, the court will consider:

  • The child’s health and safety
  • History of abuse in the family
  • The personality of each parent
  • The way the child interacts with each parent
  • Whether either parent has a history of alcohol or substance abuse
  • Any other relevant factors

As of January 2012, California custody determinations can take the child’s opinion into account. If the child is 14 years or older and expresses a preference, it will carry weight in the determination.

Types of Custody in California

Legal custody is the right to make major parental decisions about the health, welfare, and education of the child. The legal custodian of a child is responsible for deciding where a child receives their education, whether the child will be part of a religious community, and what kind of medical care the child should receive.

Physical custody references where the child will physically reside after the divorce is complete. If only one parent has physical custody of the child, they are referred to as the “custodial” or “residential” parent, while the other parent is considered “noncustodial” or “nonresidential.” The noncustodial parent will likely have some form of visitation rights.

Custody also depends on the agreement you enter with your spouse following the divorce. You may share joint or sole custody

Joint Custody

When parents have joint legal custody, both parents have an equal right to make choices about the child’s health, welfare, and education. Joint legal custody does not always entail joint physical custody.

Joint legal custody is the default in California, unless:

  • The parents cannot cooperate and make choices together in the best interest of their child
  • One parent is deemed unfit by the court
  • Sole legal custody is in the child’s best interest

Likewise, if a child spends a relatively equal amount of time living with each parent, those parents have joint physical custody.

Sole Custody

When only one parent has the right and responsibility to make major decisions for their child, this parent has sole legal custody. If a parent has sole legal custody, they do not need to consult the other parent before making a major decision about the child’s health, welfare, or education.

Sole legal custody does not always equate to sole physical custody.

If one parent has sole physical custody, they are the custodial or residential parent in the situation. 

Visitation Rights for California Parents

If one parent has sole physical custody, the noncustodial parent will likely be entitled to some form of visitation as long as it is also in the child’s best interest.

Visitation schedules often involve splitting holidays between parents and extended visitation during summer vacation. These schedules usually include pick-up and drop-off coordination. Generally, the parents will create the schedule and get it approved by the courts, but in some less civil situations, a mediator may be involved.

If the noncustodial parent has a history of abusive behavior, the judge may choose to only allow them to have visitation with a visitation supervisor. The judge may also require that the visitation takes place at a court-approved location, as opposed to the noncustodial parent’s home.

If the noncustodial parent has a history of substance abuse, they will likely also need a visitation supervisor. The parent may be required to seek treatment and addiction counseling before being allowed to have unsupervised visitation.

Seek Out Help from a California Child Custody Attorney

If you and your children are in the midst of a tumultuous divorce, the best thing you can do for them is to seek out the right family lawyer to streamline the process. Not even the most perfect legal representation can make this difficult situation painless, but at The Law Office of Laurence J. Brock, we are here to protect the kids from as much stress and pain as possible.

Ready to speak with a family law attorney in California? Contact The Law Office of Laurence J. Brock today at 909-466-7661, or fill out our convenient online form to get your questions answered.


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