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California Child Custody Laws

by Iris Rj D.

California Child Custody Laws, Child Custody Laws in California
Child Custody Laws in California

Child custody is simply getting the guardianship of the child after a divorce. The child custody laws help parents determine who will get the guardianship of the child and up to what extent. Child custody laws vary from state to state. It is therefore important for the parents to learn about the laws in their state before applying for custody.

The decision of a child's custody is generally taking with the child's best interest in mind. In California, the court gives priority to make the child comfortable and give their custody to that parent, it presumes will work in the child's interest.

Custody Laws in California:

In California, the court will focus on the child's best interest and will grant custody accordingly. It will evaluate the agreement that the parents have agreed upon and decide the extent to which each parent will have custodial rights. Both the parents can have equal custodial rights, or they may differ, depending on the court's decision.

While the court's decision in custodial cases is final, it does take into consideration the agreement the parents have agreed upon after meeting with a mediator from Family Court Service. Normally, the court accepts this agreement. However, in case of differences, it is known to make the final decision. The court decides on which parent will be responsible for looking after the child based on the following factors:
  • The child's welfare, health, and safety
  • The child's needs and continuing relationships with parents.
  • The family history
  • The age of the child, etc.

Sole Child Custody:

If one parent is seen unfit to take care of the child, the court gives the responsibility of the child to a single parent. This is called sole custody. Usually, the court tries to ensure that both the parents have custodial rights over the child. However, in case one parent is abusive, violent or does substance abuse, the court may grant sole custody to the other parent. Sole custody can be legal custody or physical custody.
  • Legal Custody: Here, only one parent will have the right to make decisions regarding the child's welfare, health, safety, education, and religion
  • Physical Custody: Only one parent will have the right to live with the child, while the other parent will have visitation rights only. This visitation can be fixed or supervised.
There can be instances where one parent will have both the legal and physical custodial rights, while the other parent will not be given any custodial right. This decision will be made if the court deems the parent to be harmful to the child.


Joint Child Custody:

In joint child custody, both the parents will have legal and physical custodial rights. The extent of the custodial rights that each parent will have, shall be decided and agreed upon by both the parents. The parent with more custodial power will be known as the primary custodial parent. Similar to sole custody, joint custody can be either legal or physical or both.
  • Legal Custody: Here, both the parents have a say in the child's health, welfare, education, and religion. To avoid conflicts, it is necessary for the parents to communicate and make and relevant decisions related to the child, together.
  • Physical Custody: Here, both parents can live with the child. As it is not possible to divide the time spent with each parent equally, the parents should come upon an agreement on the living arrangement, which is in the child's best interest.
Generally, the court allows both physical and legal custody to both the parents. However, it may decide to allow joint legal custody and sole physical custody. In such cases, both parents can make decisions regarding their child's life, however, only one parent can live with the child, while the other will have only visitation rights.

In California, a court order is not necessary if both the parents are in agreement. The agreement itself is binding. However, if the parents are in disagreement, the court cannot enforce the agreement on them and will have to pass a court order. The court may also appoint an evaluation officer to evaluate the custody and form a parenting plan, to help the parents.

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