What is Legal Custody in California?

When parents live apart, the issues surrounding custody of their children often become very stressful and contentious. It is only natural to want to maintain the connection with your children and to be as much a part of their lives as possible.

With regard to custody in California, parents need to consider both physical and legal custody. Physical custody is what most people think of when they hear the word “custody.” It involves the child’s living arrangements and visitation schedule, often referred to as parenting time.

Legal custody is quite different, but just as important. In this post, we’ll explore what it means to have legal custody in California and how parents can protect their right to legal custody.

Legal Custody Gives You Authority Over Important Decisions in Your Child’s Life

Parents make numerous decisions that affect the course of their children’s lives, often without even realizing it. They decide where their child will go to school, at what age they should receive particular vaccinations, whether their child will attend church, and a host of other issues. Having the right, ability, and authority to make these types of decisions is what constitutes legal custody.

Examples of issues that are included with legal custody include deciding:

  • Where a child should attend daycare
  • Which doctor will be a child’s primary physician
  • Whether a child can participate in contact sports such as football
  • Which school program a child should be enrolled in
  • Whether a child will be allowed to go on a school field trip out of state
  • Which dentist will care for the child’s teeth and what age they should have their first check-up
  • Whether a child needs therapy or counseling, and who they should see
  • How to respond to a disciplinary problem at school
  • Whether a child will attend Sunday School or vacation Bible school
  • What types of medication a child is allowed to receive

Legal custody can involve so many issues that it can be difficult to reconcile for parents who do not cooperate well.

California Often Grants Joint Legal Custody to Parents

Even when physical custody is granted solely to one parent, California courts often share legal custody between parents. In theory, this gives parents an equal say in the important decisions affecting their child’s upbringing. It allows both parents to play a key role in a child’s life. It also should prevent one parent from making a sudden change that the other does not approve of, such as removing the child from the school they’ve attended for years to switch to an experimental alternative program.

Joint legal custody should give parents an equal role in determining their child’s future. As a practical matter, if one parent is determined to have their way, that can either lead to painful conflict or a situation where the other parent is shut out of decision-making.

In a shared legal custody arrangement, your attorney can take steps to protect your parental rights. For instance, you might establish an agreement that gives one parent authority over particular decisions and the other parent authority over other decisions. Or an agreement might specify that certain major decisions must be mutually agreed on while other decisions can be made by the parent who has physical custody of the child at the time. As an example of how that might work, parents would have to agree regarding which school the child attends, but the parent who has the child at the time could make the decision about whether a child could attend a field trip.

When Legal Custody is Granted to One Parent Only

In some situations, courts will grant one parent sole legal custody, as well as sole physical custody. The other parent may have visitation rights, although the visitation may be supervised.

Often when a parent is granted sole legal custody, it is because the court believes the other parent has done something wrong or that the other parent is incapable of making decisions that are in a child’s best interests. If one parent is abusive or mentally unstable and evidence of this is presented to the court, then the other parent is likely to be given sole legal custody. If you are in a situation where you are attempting to co-parent with someone who you believe poses a danger to the child’s wellbeing, or if you are a parent who has been falsely accused of abuse or other misconduct, it is important to work with an attorney who can protect your parental rights and your child’s best interests.

Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC Helps Achieve Your Goals for Legal Custody

The Certified Family Law Specialists and associates at Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC understand how to help you gain legal custody and how to establish arrangements that enable you to exercise decision-making authority effectively in all types of situations. For help with legal custody or any other family law matter, call 855-426-9111 or contact our team online today to schedule a confidential consultation.

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