Divorce is an emotionally distressing and legally challenging time for any divorcing couple. For divorcing spouses with children, no issue in a divorce settlement agreement is as fraught with emotion as child custody. In the best-case scenario, parents agree with the understanding promoted by the court—that continued close contact with both parents is in the child’s best interest. When divorcing spouses agree to co-parent their children with a shared custody schedule that works for their lifestyles, it minimizes stress on the children and supports more open communication between co-parents.
Sadly, custody arrangements in California aren’t always that easy. When parents can’t agree on shared custody or a workable parenting time schedule, the court must consider arguments on both sides and decide for them.
Whether you’re facing divorce and planning to negotiate a custody schedule out of court with your spouse, or you’re going to face off in front of a judge, it helps to know the different types of custody agreements in California.
Legal Custody In California
Raising children requires not only making many small decisions for children throughout each day but also making critical decisions that significantly impact their lives. When parents divorce, they don’t always agree on important child-raising decisions. As part of a custody agreement in California, the parents or the court must decide how divorced or non-married parents make decisions for their children. One or both parents may have legal custody of a child, or the power to decide issues such as:
- Medical care
- Extra-curricular activities
Divorced parents in California may have joint legal custody if they’re able to communicate effectively. In other cases, a judge may award one parent sole legal custody.
Physical Custody in California
When parents or a judge decides on the physical custody of their children, it refers to where and with whom the child resides. Physical custody means the parent has the right to have their children in their home. Parents may share physical custody on a 50/50 basis or they could have a parenting time schedule in which one parent has primary custody of the children and the other has visitation rights. Parents may negotiate the amount of visitation time themselves in a custody agreement or it could be court-ordered by a judge if they cannot agree.
In cases of child abuse, neglect, or a parent with an addiction, a judge could order supervised visitation only for that parent.
Sole Custody of Children in California
Sole custody occurs when parents agree or a court decides that one parent alone has custody of the children. The children live with that parent and the parent also has legal decision-making custody of the children. This occurs in cases of child or spousal abuse, when a parent is unfit, or if one parent has an unsafe living environment.
To gain sole custody of a child in California, the parent must show the court that this is in the child’s best interest.
Joint Custody of Children in California
When parents share custody of the children in close to a 50/50 parenting time schedule, they have joint custody. This arrangement works well when parents live in close enough proximity to make shuttling kids back and forth workable in a schedule that could either alternate weeks or split days within the week.
In some cases, parents may have both joint physical and legal custody, or parents may have joint physical custody but one parent has sole legal custody.