How is child custody determined in California?

Making decisions about child custody is a crucial aspect of divorce proceedings in California, and of course it is also critical for parents who never married. At the heart of it, the law focuses on what is in the best interests of the child. 

If parents can't agree on a custody plan, the California courts will step in. When making these determinations, they consider various factors to ensure the child's well-being. These factors are important to keep in mind whether you are devising your own plan or allowing the judge to make the decisions.


Types of Child Custody in California

In California, child custody arrangements can vary widely based on the circumstances of the parents. The state categorizes child custody into two primary types, physical and legal. These types of custody can be shared or issued solely to one parent.

1.Physical Custody: This type of custody addresses the child's living arrangements. When a parent has physical custody, it means the child resides with them for a specific duration, whether it's for a few days a week, alternate weeks, or even longer intervals.

  • Joint Physical Custody: Under this arrangement, the child lives with both parents, splitting time between their residences. The split doesn't necessarily have to be equal, but both parents have significant periods with the child.
  • Sole Physical Custody: Here, the child primarily lives with one parent. The other parent may or may not have visitation rights. In situations where they do, it's generally outlined in a visitation schedule.


2.Legal Custody: This pertains to the rights and responsibilities of making significant decisions about the child's upbringing, such as their education, medical care, religious instruction, and other welfare-related choices.

  • Joint Legal Custody: Both parents share the responsibility of making major life decisions for the child. Even if the child lives with one parent more than the other, both parents have an equal say in these crucial choices.
  • Sole Legal Custody: In this scenario, only one parent has the authority to make major decisions about the child's life. This could be due to various reasons, such as one parent being deemed unfit or the parents being unable to make joint decisions due to high levels of conflict.

Navigating the nuances of child custody in California requires a sound understanding of the state's laws and a clear sense of what's best for the child. 


Factors Influencing Custody Decisions in California

In child custody cases in California, the overarching principle is the child's best interests. Legally, this is not a vague or arbitrary concept that it might first appear to be. Over time, the standard has been fleshed out to include a consideration of several critical factors including:

  • The Child's Age and Health: Younger kids may need stable routines. Health needs can influence which parent is better equipped to provide care.
  • Emotional Ties: Courts consider which parent has a deeper emotional bond with the child and who has been more involved in daily life.
  • Parental Capabilities: Beyond love, this encompasses financial stability, a safe environment, and the parent's physical and mental health.
  • History of Violence or Abuse: A record of abuse can heavily influence custody decisions, prioritizing the child's safety above all.
  • The Child's Connection to Their Environment: Uprooting a child from familiar settings like school or community can impact custody outcomes.

It’s vitally important to ensure that your attorney has all the information regarding factors that weigh in your favor. For instance, if you’re the parent who puts the child to bed every night, that detail can be very important. 


Considering the Child's Preferences

In California, if a child is mature enough (typically around 12 years or older) and wishes to express a preference in custody, the court might consider their opinion. However, it's only one of many factors, and the child's preference does not guarantee a specific outcome.


Modification of Child Custody in California

Living circumstances evolve, and situations may arise post-divorce that necessitate a change in the custody agreement. In California, you can request a modification if there's a significant change in circumstances, like a relocation or a change in the child's needs. It's crucial to approach these modification requests with the guidance of knowledgeable attorneys to ensure the child's best interests remain paramount.


Ensuring the Well-being of Your Child with Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC

Child custody decisions are among the most emotionally charged in the divorce process. We understand that you want the best for your child, and our team at Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, is here to support you every step of the way. 

If you're navigating this complex area, lean on a knowledgeable team to guide you. Call Holstrom, Block & Parke APLC today at (844) 237-5791 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with a supportive child custody attorney in California.

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