Family Law 101: How Child Custody is Determined in California

Married couples with children who decide to take definite steps to formally end their marriage face an important yet difficult issue to resolve – which spouse gets the custody rights over the children. Unfortunately, to the detriment of the children, custody disputes are often one of the most contentious aspects of a divorce. For that reason, the decision to grant custody over the children, as well as the extent of it, lies with a court. The California Family Code contains detailed laws that help judges make such decisions. In this blog, we will present an overview of how child custody is determined in California.

Types of Custody in California

While some may think obtaining custody rights means that children get to live with only one parent who is exclusively responsible for making all the important decisions in their life, this is actually not the case. The California Family Code provides for different types of custody orders that judges can issue based on a variety of circumstances. The basic types of custody in California are:

  • Legal custody – a parent who has legal custody over a child has the responsibility for making important decisions affecting the child’s life such as those related to health care, education, and welfare. Some choices a parent with legal custody are entitled to make may include school or child care, religion and religious activities, travel, and residence.
  • Physical custody – a child will live with the parent who is granted physical custody of the child.

Both legal and physical custody rights can be granted as sole or joint custody. Sole custody means that, in the case of legal custody, only one parent has the responsibility to decide on issues related to a child’s life and that, in the case of physical custody, a child lives with 1 parent most of the time. Joint custody means that both parents share in the decisions regarding a child and that a child lives with both parents.

What Does a Court Consider When Deciding Custody?

The most important principle that a judge must consider when deciding in custody cases is what the law defines as “the best interests of the child.”  

It is also the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy, except where the contact would not be in the best interest of the child.

What follows from this principle is that the court will not automatically give the custody to the mother or the father depending solely on the age or sex of the child. Rather, the court will try to create a plan that allows both parents to participate fully while taking into account other relevant factors. Some of these factors include:

  • The health of the child and its healthcare needs
  • Emotional bond the child has with the mother and the father
  • The ability of each parent to care for the child – financial and otherwise
  • Any history of family violence or substance abuse
  • Child’s preference, if the child has the age and maturity to express a preference

In addition to this general guidelines, there are also specific laws that a judge’s decision must adhere to. For example, domestic violence and other crimes committed by one parent against the other can prevent the abuser from having custody of the child.

Facing a Child Custody Dispute? Contact a Trusted Family Lawyer

When you’re facing a child custody dispute, it is natural to feel anxious about your child’s future well-being. Our attorneys at the Carroll Law Office provide our clients with comprehensive legal assistance and bold representation in custody disputes. Contact us today so that we can analyze your situation and come up with a tailor-made solution to your legal concerns.