One of the most contested and emotionally charged issues in the area of family law is child custody and visitation. For most people there are few things, if any, as important to their happiness and well being as the happiness and well being of their children. Further, the time that we get to spend with our children is already limited.
Our attorneys are experienced in handling negotiated and litigated child custody disputes. Not all custody determinations are contentious. Our attorneys can work with you to negotiate a custody and visitation plan, which is agreeable to all parties involved. However, if custody determinations become contentious, you need an experienced family law attorney in your corner, who will fight to make sure that you and your children’s interests are protected.
The following information may be helpful for you to understand the basics of how child custody and visitation works in California.
Legal Custody v. Physical Custody
Legal custody is the responsibility for making decisions regarding a child’s health, healthcare, education and welfare. For instances, decisions such as which doctor will treat the children, and what schools the children attend. In California, parents may be given joint legal custody or solo legal custody. Joint legal custody means that the parents share responsibility for making such decisions. Solo legal custody means that one parent has the right to make those decisions on behalf of the children.
Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to where the children actually live. As with legal custody, physical custody can be joint or solo. Joint physical custody means that the children spend a portion of their time with each parent. Solo physical custody mans that the children live with only one parent. Oftentimes when one parent is given solo physical custody, the other parent has visitation rights; however, this is not always the case.
Legal custody and physical custody are distinct issues legally. Therefore, custody arrangements can vary, such as: joint legal custody - joint physical custody, solo legal custody – solo physical custody, joint legal custody – solo physical custody, and solo legal custody – joint physical custody.
How Custody is Determined
Custody can be determined through negotiation, litigation, or temporarily through a protective order. However, the way that a California family court determines custody comes down to the “Best Interests of the Child.” The court will look to the following factors to determine what is in the best interests of a child:
The health, safety and welfare of the child
History of domestic violence or substance abuse by either parent
The nature and amount of contact with both parents
The child’s ties to school, home, and community
The ability for the parents to care for the child
The age and health of the child
Custody and Visitation Modifications
Circumstances in life are constantly changing. This is especially true in the years following a divorce proceeding. Sometimes the parent whose home provided the best environment for the children at the time of the divorce, no longer serves the child’s interests best. Courts are willing to modify child custody and visitation orders upon proof of certain changed circumstances.