In today’s world, most of us have been impacted by a divorce in some
way or another. Perhaps you are a child of
divorce, or your close friends have been through a divorce. Or, perhaps a few
of your family members have obtained a divorce once or twice.
What if this is your first divorce? If you have children, one of your top
priorities in the divorce will center on
child custody. Who will get the children? Will you share custody, or will one of you
get the children most of the time?
Is domestic violence a factor? If so, how will that impact the child custody
Two Types of Custody in California
In California, child custody is broken down into two categories: legal
and physical. The courts operate on the presumption that it’s best
for parents to share legal and physical custody whenever practical, in
the absence of spousal abuse or child abuse.
Ideally, divorcing parents will reach an agreement on child custody and
visitation with the help of their respective divorce attorneys. In that
case, they would memorialize their agreement in a “parenting plan.”
If the parents are unable to reach a child custody agreement, a judge will
have to decide for them. In effect, the judge would do his or her best
to make a decision that is in the child’s best interests.
Legal Custody Defined
“Legal custody” refers to making decisions for the child. Such
decisions center on education, medical treatment, religious upbringing,
extracurricular activities, etc.
When the parents have “joint legal custody,” it means that
both parents share in the responsibility of making important decisions
about their child’s health, education, and general welfare. In California,
it is common for courts to order joint legal custody, unless one parent is unfit.
If one parent is deemed unfit, the other parent will have “sole legal
Physical Custody Defined
“Physical custody” refers to where a child lives after their
parents have separated or divorced. Physical custody is not to be confused
with “legal custody,” as they are very different. When a parent
has physical custody, they have the right to have their child in their home.
When a child lives primarily with one parent, or exclusively with them,
that parent is considered to be the residential or custodial parent, and
the other parent is the non-residential or non-custodial parent, the one
with “visitation” rights.
In a joint physical custody arrangement, both of the parents enjoy significant
periods of custody; sometimes the child spends equal amounts of time with
With a “sole physical custody” arrangement, the child lives
with one parent, however, the court may order that the other parent has
In domestic violence cases, the court may order that all visits with the
abusive parent be supervised, or it may determine that it’s in the
child’s best interests not to see the abusive parent at all.
To learn more about child custody in a California divorce,
contact our Los Angeles divorce attorneys for a free case evaluation. We’re
here for you.