What You Need to Know About Child Custody in California

If you are anticipating a separation or divorce in California, you may have concerns about child custody. Many divorcing parents are afraid that they will not be able to have access to their child or children after the divorce is finalized. California's child custody laws can be extremely complex and overwhelming. Understanding California's child custody laws can help you as you navigate through the child custody process in California.

Contact Our Dublin, California Child Custody Lawyers Today

When you are ready to talk about child custody issues, Ham Family Law is here to help. We are experienced Contra Costa County family law attorneys. We have successfully represented many clients through the child custody process. We take our clients' child custody goals and needs seriously. Contact our law firm as soon as possible to schedule your initial consultation and learn how we can help you. 

Child Custody Basics in California

You will often hear the words visitation and custody being used in divorce and separation cases. Child custody refers to the responsibilities and rights between parents when it comes to taking care of their children. Parents also need to decide on visitation, or how each parent will spend time with their children. When parents cannot agree on custody and visitation orders, a California court will need to step in and make a decision. 

The Two Types of Custody Orders in California

There are two types of child custody in California, legal custody, and physical custody. Legal custody means which parent will make decisions regarding the children, like health care, welfare, and education decisions. Physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child will live. 

Understanding Legal Custody in California

There are key types of legal custody arrangements, joint custody, and sole custody. In a joint custody situation, both parents will have the responsibility and right to make important decisions about the kid's health, welfare, and education. Custody can be sole, in which only one of the parents has the right and responsibility to make important health, education, and welfare of children. 

What Decisions can a Parent with Legal Custody Make?

A parent with legal custody will have the ability to make the following types of decisions on behalf of their children:

  • Child care
  • School
  • Religious institutions and activities
  • Psychological, or other mental health counseling or therapy needs
  • Choosing the child's dentist, doctor, orthodontist, or other health care professionals
  • Travel decisions
  • Residences where the children will live

Making Parenting Decisions With Joint Legal Custody

When only one parent has legal custody, he or she will have the sole ability to make important decisions regarding the child or children involved. When parents have joint custody, they both have the right to make decisions on behalf of their children. Parents who both have joint custody do not always agree on parenting decisions. When parents both have joint custody and they cannot agree on a parenting decision, the California courts may need to get involved. 

Understanding Physical Custody in California

Physical custody can be joint or sole. In a primary or sole custody situation, the child or children will live with only one of the parents full time. In joint physical custody, the child or children live with both parents. Parents can agree to their living arrangements. When parents cannot agree to a schedule for when the child will live with each parent, the California courts will need to step in. 

Joint physical custody does not mean that the child or children need to spend 50% of the time with one parent and 50% with another parent. Typically, the children will spend more time with one of the parents than the other parent in a joint physical custody arrangement. In some cases, California judges will grant one parent physical custody and both parent's legal custody. In these cases, both parents will need to work together to make decisions based on their child or children. However, the child or children will only live with one of the parents. 

Navigating custody arrangements can be challenging and require legal representation. Parents who do not have physical custody of their child or children often have the right to visit the children, either alone or through court-ordered visitation.

What Factors do California Courts Consider When Deciding Custody?

California family courts look to several different factors when deciding custody issues. Family courts consider the following factors:

  • The best interests of the child
  • The age and health of the child
  • The emotional ties between the parent and each child
  • Each parent's ability to care for the child
  • The child's ties to the home, school, and community
  • Which parent is more likely to encourage frequent visits with the other parent
  • The wishes of the child, if the child was over the age of 12
  • Whether either parent has a history of domestic violence
  • Whether either parent has a history of drug use 

Understanding the Different Types of California Visitation Orders

California courts will often enforce visitation plans for how parents should share time with their children. Typically, parents who have physical custody less than half the time will have visitation with the children. Visitation orders depend on the best interests of the children, the parent's situation, and other factors. Visitation can be:

  • According to a pre-arranged schedule: parents can have a detailed visitation plan to prevent confusion. A visitation plan will detail the times and dates that each child will spend with each parent. Visitation schedules should include which parent will have physical custody on holidays. 
  • Reasonable visitation orders are more open-ended. They allow the parents to work out visitation between them on their own. 
  • Supervised visitation happens when the child's safety is in jeopardy, or when the parents are not getting along well. Typically, another adult, a professional agency, or the other parent will supervise the visit.
  • No visitation: when one parent is emotionally or physically abusive to the children, a court may bar the parent from having any contact with the children. 

Our Contra Costa County Child Custody Lawyers can Help

We understand how important your child custody goals are for you and your entire family. When you need help navigating the complex child custody process, we can help. Contact the family lawyers at Ham Family Law to schedule your initial consultation today. 

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