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How Does Child Custody Work in California?

picture of family being torn in half

Every state varies on child custody laws, but one rule remains valid for all -- child custody decisions should be in the best interests of the child. This is no exception in California. However, that doesn’t answer what courts look for when making decisions involving custody and visitation of a child. In this blog, our Folsom family law attorneys explain the child custody process in California.

What is Child Custody?

Child custody is a parent's right to make significant decisions in a child’s life and to provide a safe and physically healthy environment for them. In California custody cases, a judge will decide whether the parents will have joint custody or if one parent will take on sole custodial duties.

In California, there are two kinds of child custody:

  • Legal Custody: The person who makes important decisions for the child, like health care, education, and welfare. Legal custody can be joint or sole. In joint legal custody, both parents share the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the child’s health, education, and welfare. Meanwhile, sole custody only allows one parent this right.

  • Physical Custody: This is the person the child lives with. Physical custody can also be joint or sole. In joint physical custody, the child lives with both parents. In sole physical custody, the child typically lives with one parent most of the time and visits their other parent. In joint custody, both parents.

In addition to custody, parents can also receive visitation time, which is also known as “time-share.” Visitation is the parent’s plan for how they will share time with their child. Typically, if one parent has sole custody, the other parent will receive visitation rights with the child.

Principles Used to Judge Custody Cases

The court’s primary concern is that custody protects the child’s health, safety, and welfare. To make this decision, the judge will look at several factors in the case to determine what is going to be the healthiest situation for the child’s wellbeing.

Factors the court will consider may include:

  • The child’s age if they are mature enough to state their preference

  • The child’s health, safety, and welfare

  • If there is a history of physical abuse

  • If there is a history of drug and alcohol abuse

  • Whether the child has any siblings

  • Which parent has primarily been caring for the child, and if the environment is stable

If either parent's behavior causes the judge to the conclusion that the children would be exposed to harm or unsafe living conditions, this will result in a judge restricting partial or complete custody to one or both parents. For example, if one or both parents are heavy users of narcotics or alcohol, they would be unable to provide for the welfare of the children sufficiently.

Who gets Custody?

The big question for parents who are both fit to take care of their children and who can provide a safe place for them to live is, “how will they share custody?” California prefers parents to decide among themselves their custody arrangement. Therefore, before a formal hearing, parents can decide amongst themselves how they want to share legal and physical custody in a joint custody arrangement.

However, parents don’t always agree on how to split custody. If there is a dispute, and one parent does not agree with the other parent on how to share custody, they will be required to attend a mediation session before they take the issue to court. If mediation does not solve the problem, then the court will make the final decision regarding custody in a formal hearing.

Want to Protect Your Children’s Rights?

The Law Office of Tiffany L. Andrews, P.C., understands how important your family is to you. We are dedicated to providing you with the effective representation you need to get the most favorable results possible in your family matter. When your family’s future is on the line, you can count on us to be there for you every step of the way.

If you have any questions about child custody, contact our Folsom custody lawyers at (916) 794-4576.


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