Two Types of Child Custody in California
Most people think of child custody as defining the parent with which a child lives – and that is correct for the most part. The parent with whom the child lives at a given time has physical custody. There is another kind of custody, however, called “legal custody”.
This article is a basic primer on the two types of child custody – legal and physical. If you would like to find out how your own family situation would work under California custody law, we suggest you consult with a California family law attorney.
Physical Custody – Time Sharing
In California these days, physical custody is more commonly thought of in terms of “time sharing” or “parenting time.” The traditional terms, “custody” and “visitation” are becoming anachronisms.
Physical custody is typically “joint” or shared, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the child spends exactly 50% of his or her time with one parent and 50% with the other.
In most cases, the parents work out an arrangement that works for the family, and then document their plan in a written settlement agreement. If the parents can’t work it out directly, the court will get involved and create a timesharing schedule for them.
Legal custody can also be granted to one parent (“sole legal custody”) or shared by both (“joint legal custody.”) Legal custody refers to the authority to make health care, educational, religious, social, lifestyle, and general welfare decisions about the children.
Typically the courts prefer to see joint legal custody unless there is a very compelling reason to order something else. Just as with physical custody, the process works better for everyone if the parents can work out an arrangement on their own. Virtually any plan the parents come up with on their own will be accepted by the court so long as both parties know what they’re agreeing to.
Different Children May Require Different Custody Arrangements
No custody agreement is one size fits all. Different families have different goals and needs. For example, if a child has special needs, he may need to spend the majority of his time in the home of the parent who has his medical equipment. Also, children who are very young typically cause different timeshare arrangements than children who are teenagers.
Regardless, the parents know better than anyone what is best for their children. For this reason alone, we encourage parents to work out agreements without resorting to the court system. As life unfolds and the needs of the children change, parents can modify their plan. When parents can’t work it out and resort to the judge, they’re asking a stranger to make decisions for their family and that has mixed results at best.
This doesn’t mean parents should go it alone. On the contrary, both parents should consult family lawyers so that they fully understand their rights and can make informed negotiating decisions.
How to Find a California Family Law Attorney
Our firm is composed of qualified California family law attorneys, who regularly represent clients in divorce and child custody matters. For a consultation and to find out how custody may work in your individual situation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 415.398.1290. We look forward to hearing from you.