California child custody law; Westlake Village family attorney reviews the basics

During your divorce, you and your spouse will have the opportunity to decide how you will parent your children now that your marriage is over. Child custody may also be an issue in a legal separation, domestic partnership dissolution, or paternity case. As an experienced Westlake Village family attorney, I understand that these events can be a very stressful and emotional for you and your family.

I have provided materials on this website to help you deal with your spouse or partner and protect your children as you go through the custody determination process. You may find these especially helpful:

Most parents ultimately agree on a parenting plan for their children. Even though the final decision is up to the judge, the judge will usually approve a custody and visitation plan that the parents agree to.

When parents are having difficulty reaching agreement, the judge will send them to mediation with Family Court Services. If mediation fails, the judge will hold a hearing, listen to evidence, and decide the custody and visitation plan based on the best interests of the children.

Here is an overview of what you need to know about California child custody law.

The Westlake Village family attorney explains legal custody, physical custody, joint custody, and sole custody

In California, custody is divided into legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility to make major decisions for your children. These decisions include where the children will go to school, what health care they will receive, what religious instruction and services they will attend, and what extracurricular activities they will participate in.

Physical custody means where your children will live.

Legal custody may be joint or sole. Joint legal custody means both parents share the right and responsibility to make important decisions for the children. Sole legal custody means only one parent has the decision-making right and responsibility.

When parents have joint legal custody, either parent may make a decision alone. But joint legal custody works best when the parents can cooperate in their decision making and when they are in general agreement about how their children should be raised.

Physical custody may also be joint or sole. Joint physical custody means the children spend a substantial amount of time living with each parent. The time does not have to be exactly equal. Sole physical custody means that the children live with one parent for most of the time and have visitation with the other parent.

Parents can have joint legal custody, without joint physical custody. In other words, both parents may share the decision-making rights and responsibilities, but the children may live primarily with one parent.

Visitation, sometimes called time-sharing, is the arrangement for allowing both parents to spend time with the children. It usually refers to the schedule for when the children will be with the parent with whom they do not primarily live.

How the judge decides

The public policy of California is to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage and to encourage parents to share the right and responsibilities of child rearing.

When the parents are unable to reach an agreement, the judge decides a custody case according to what he or she believes is in the children’s best interests. In deciding what is in a child’s best interests, the judge considers:

  • The safety, health, and welfare of the child.
  • The nature and amount of contact the child has had with each parent.
  • The child’s wishes if he or she is old enough to form a preference.
  • Any history of domestic violence or substance abuse by either parent.

In granting sole custody to either parent, the judge must consider which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the non-custodial parent and may not prefer a parent as custodian because of that parent’s sex.

Get help with your divorce and child custody plan from a caring Westlake Village family attorney

Westlake Village family attorney Gary Mitchell has extensive experience resolving custody disputes and drafting parenting agreements. If you are not already represented by a California family law firm and would like to have your case evaluated, please complete the case submission form at the top of this page, and Gary will respond promptly.

Gary Mitchell, Attorney at Law
Westlake Village Divorce Lawyer

4195 East Thousand Oaks Blvd Suite 240
Westlake Village, California 91362

Westlake Village family attorney

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