Are you a parent who is headed toward
divorce? Or, are you an unmarried parent who needs to go to court to sort out a
child custody issue? Either way, you’ll be interested in learning how California’s
child custody laws apply to your family. To help you better understand
how child custody works in the state, we’re going to shed light
on the topic in this post. If you need legal assistance, we invite you
to contact us directly.
In California, parents are encouraged to reach their own agreement regarding
child custody. Once such an agreement is reached and the parents have
created a Parenting Plan, the judge can sign off on their agreement and
issue an official court order. Generally, the family courts encourage
the parents to share custody, providing both parents are loving and caring,
but only one parent can end up with custody as well.
While the parents are urged to come up with their own custody and
visitation arrangement, the judge has the final say. Usually how it goes is the parents
propose an agreement (their Parenting Plan) and the judge approves it.
However, if the parents cannot agree on child custody, the judge will
hold a court hearing and he or she will decide for the parents. California
judges do not usually make
decisions about child custody and visitation until the parents have met with a mediator
from Family Court Services.
Two Types of Custody Orders
California has two types of child custody: 1) legal custody, and 2) physical
custody. “Legal custody” refers to making important decisions
for one’s children, such as education, healthcare, travel, residence,
sports, vacation, mental health care, religious upbringing, and extracurricular
activities. On the other hand, physical custody refers to who the children
are living with.
Legal custody can be joint or sole. When it’s joint, it means both parents make
decisions about their children. With sole legal custody, only one parent
has the right to make important decisions about their children. For example,
let’s say a mother had sole legal custody of her children and she
wanted to join a church for the first time and bring her children with
her. Since she has sole legal custody, it’s her decision to make
and the father’s input will not have any bearing on what she decides to do.
When parents have joint legal custody, they both have the right to make
decisions about their children’s lives and well-being. To avoid
running into problems and ending back in court, parents should have open
communication with each other and they should not act without the other
parent’s consent. They should also willingly cooperate with each
other and be respectful toward one another.
Like legal custody,
physical custody can be joint or sole (primary). When physical custody is joint, it means
the children spend time living with both parents. When it’s sole
or primary, it usually means that the children mostly live with one parent
and they visit with the other parent.
“Does joint physical custody mean the children spend 50 percent of
their time with each parent?” No, not necessarily. Joint physical
custody does not have to mean that the children divide their time 50/50
with both parents. Usually, this is impractical because it’s hard
to split the children’s time so it’s exactly in half. When
one parent has the children for more than 50 percent of the time, that
parent is considered to be the “primary custodial parent.”
“Does joint legal custody always translate to joint physical custody?”
Not always. Sometimes, a judge will give both parents joint legal custody
but not joint physical custody. In these situations, both parents have
the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the children’s
upbringings, but the children live with one of the parents the majority
of the time. The other parent (what some states call the non-custodial
parent) usually has visits with his or her children.
Time-Sharing (Visitation) in California
Visitation in California is also called time-sharing - it refers to
how parents “share” time with their kids. The parent who has the
children for less than 50 percent of the time is said to have “visitation.”
Visitation orders are not all the same, they vary depending on the family’s
situation and the children’s best interests. Generally, there are
four types of visitation:
1. Visitation that adheres to a schedule: This is where the parents have created a detailed schedule, which gives
them predictability and helps them prevent scheduling conflicts. Such
schedules outline when the children will be with each parent; they can
also include schedules for holidays, birthdays, vacations and the like.
2. Reasonable visitation: These types of orders are more flexible and open-ended than scheduled
visitation. These types of visitation plans only work well when the parents
have good communication and can get along. However, if there are disagreements,
these types of schedules can cause the children to suffer.
3. Supervised visitation: This type of visitation is used in cases of domestic violence and in other
situations where it’s best for the children’s well-being.
With supervised visitation, the other parent, another adult, or someone
from an agency is present during the visits. It can also be used when
the child has not seen their parent for a long time and needs time to
get familiar with their mom or dad.
4. No visitation allowed: If it is in the children’s best interests NOT to see their other
parent because of
child abuse or a severe
mental disorder, the parent may be denied visitation altogether. Meaning, even supervised
visitation would be harmful for the child. This is especially applicable
in cases of severe child abuse.
9 Child Custody Tips for Your Case
Do you need help with a child custody issue in Los Angeles? If so,
contact Claery & Hammond, LLP to schedule a
free case evaluation.