How does child custody work in California?

After a divorce or when they otherwise choose to raise their kids apart, parents may be awarded joint or sole legal or physical child custody.

When California parents divorce, one of the matters to be settled may be how they will share their parenting responsibilities. On their own, through child custody mediation or by court order, arrangements must be made regarding how they will share their parental rights and spend time with their children. Understanding child custody orders and how they are established may help parents protect their rights and establish agreements that best serve their kids.

When it comes to child custody, there are two types - legal custody and physical custody. Both types may be awarded jointly, meaning both parents share the associated rights and responsibilities. Alternatively, parents may be awarded sole legal or physical custody; meaning only one parent retains the involved rights and responsibilities.

Legal custody

Legal custody refers to the decision-making responsibilities for children. When parents are awarded legal custody for their kids, they are permitted to make important choices relating to their child's health care, welfare and education. This includes making decisions about what religious faith to bring kids for, what sports to allow them to play and what extracurricular activities to permit them to participate in.

Physical custody

Physical custody addresses children's housing arrangements. Children may share their time between their parents, living part-time at each of their homes. When the court awards joint physical custody, it does not necessarily mean that the child's time will be equally divided between his or her parents. Rather, the child may spend slightly more time with one parent that the other. In other cases, however, the court may see fit to have a child live primarily with one parent and award visitation to the other.

Best interests of the child

It is a long-held belief that family law courts give preference to mothers when it comes to establishing child custody orders. However, California law establishes the presumption that children are best served by establishing joint custody agreements. When deciding child custody arrangements, the court may consider numerous factors to determine what is in the best interests of the child. These include the following:

· The child's age and health

· Each parent's ability to care for the child

· The existing parent-child relationships

· The child's community, school and home ties

If there is a family history of substance abuse, domestic violence or abuse, the court may also take that into consideration when determining people's parental rights and responsibilities following a divorce.

Working with a lawyer

When it comes to matters involving their children, parents in California and elsewhere often believe they are acting in their kids' best interests. Particularly after a divorce or when they have decided to raise their children apart, however, people's opinions on what is the right choice for their kids may differ drastically. Therefore, those who are getting divorced or are otherwise involved in a custody dispute may find it helpful to seek legal assistance. A lawyer may help them understand their options and rights, as well as guide them through the related legal processes.