Child Custody

Parents who no longer live together need to have a way to decide where their children will live, where they attend school, and other important decisions (“parenting plan”). Sometimes parents can agree on a parenting plan, and other times they need the help of the court. While the judge has the authority to make the final decision on parenting plans, he or she will usually approve whatever arrangement upon which the parents agree. If the parents cannot agree, the judge will make a decision after the parents have met with a mediator supplied by the court.

TYPES OF CUSTODY ORDERS

There are two kinds of child custody under California law: A) Legal custody, which means who will be the one to make decisions concerning the children’s health, education, and welfare, and B) Physical custody, which means with whom your children will live.

Legal custody can be 1) Joint, where both parents share the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children; or 2) Sole, where only one parent has the right and responsibility to make these important decisions. Parents with legal custody make decisions or choices about their children’s:

●School or child care;
●Religious activities or institutions;
●Psychiatric, psychological, or other mental health counseling or therapy needs;
●Doctor, dentist, orthodontist, or other health professional;
●Sports, summer camp, vacation, or extracurricular activities;
●Travel; and
●Residence (where the children will live).

Parents who share legal custody both have the right to make these decisions but do not have to agree on everything except those items specifically enumerated by the court. While either parent can make decisions about other aspects of their children’s lives, they should communicate with each other and cooperate in making decisions to avoid ending up in court.

Physical custody can be: 1) Joint, which means that the children live with both parents; or 2) Sole or primary, which means the children will live with one parent most of the time and visit with the other parent. Joint physical custody does not mean that the children must spend exactly half the time with each parent. Usually the children spend a little more time with one parent than the other because it is too hard to split the time exactly in half. When one parent has the children more than half of the time, that parent is sometimes called the primary custodial parent.