Child custody can be a tough and complicated issue for divorcing couples. Finding a schedule that works for all parties involved and benefits the child can be complex. Child custody cases often present many questions and situations for families to consider.

In our post, we will address some of the frequently asked questions surrounding child custody cases in California to help inform those curious about the process, what to expect, and topics to consider.

What is Legal Custody?

Legal custody is the right a parent (“sole legal custody”) or two parents (“joint legal custody”) share to make major decisions surrounding a child’s well-being. Parents with legal custody will make decisions around the health, sports, travel, education, and religious activity of a child.  

What is Physical Custody?

Physical custody is the phrase used to describe where a child will live during and after a divorce or separation. A parent with physical custody has the right to have the child present in the home. Sole physical custody means that the child resides with one parent, called the “custodial” or “resident” parent. In this situation, the other parent is considered the “noncustodial” or “non residential” parent and most often has visitation rights. 

If both parents have significant periods of physical custody, it is considered joint physical custody. 

How is Child Custody Determined?

“California law requires judges to base their decisions on the child’s best interests,” notes child custody lawyers at Fernandez & Karney, “the court has broad authority when determining child custody.” California law does not show preference to any one particular parent in a child custody case. 

The judge makes the final decision about custody and visitation, including the decision based off the following factors: 

  • Child’s age
  • Child’s health
  • Emotional relationship between the child and each parent
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child
  • History of domestic violence
  • History of substance abuse
  • Child’s relationship to the home, school, and communities
  • Any other factor the California court system deems relevant

This said, if the parents have created a parenting plan that was mutually agreed upon, the judge will usually approve the arrangement.

Will My Child Have a Choice for Custody?

It depends. If a child is 14 years old or older and wishes to address the court about custody or visitation matters, the child can do so. If the court determines the child’s wishes are not in his or her best interest, the court must state its reasons on the record. A child is not required to express a preference or provide input regarding custody or visitation.

Do I Have to Pay Child Support If I Share 50/50 Custody?

Child support is related to child custody, but is distinctly different. Generally speaking, the parent who spends the least amount of time with the child will be responsible for child support payment. In a situation where both parents share custody, joint legal and physical custody, the courts will look at the parents income and earning potential of both parents. 

If one parent earns significantly more than the other parent, that parent may be required to make child support payments to the other parent to support the parent with the lower income to provide for their child.  

Should I Hire an Attorney for a Child Custody Case?

Although family law court orders in California are modifiable, it is best to create the most agreeable plan from the beginning. If your family is in the process of divorce or separation, consider speaking with an experienced child custody attorney in your area. An experienced attorney can help prepare you and your family for the court system and the upcoming changes. 

Child Custody Cases Require Care

Child custody cases can be emotional for all parties involved. With various topics and considerations to be made prior to a judgment, custody cases can be difficult to navigate emotionally, financially, and logistically. 

If your family is considering divorce or separation, consider speaking with an experienced child custody attorney to provide guidance during this transitional time. An attorney can be a resource to provide additional insight to frequently asked questions surrounding the child custody process.