Child custody is often one of divorce’s most complex and emotionally taxing phases. In California, custody arrangements are determined by the California Family Code. The court utilizes a variety of factors to determine custody but always aims for the child’s best interest. There are several different types of custody arrangements that are each tailored to meet the unique circumstances of each family. For families going through a custody battle & navigating the complexities of family law, understanding the different types of custody is essential.

Physical Custody

Physical Custody refers to who the child is spending time with after a divorce. A parent with physical custody has the right to spend in-person time with the child at their home. In California, there are only two types of physical custody: sole and joint. 

    • Sole Physical Custody: This is when only one parent has custodial rights. The child will primarily reside with one parent and the other parent may have visitation rights. 
    • Joint Physical Custody: In California, joint physical custody is more common than sole custody. The type of joint physical custody depends on the case. Generally, the custody is a 50/50 split, but a judge might order a different arrangement type depending on the case. 

Legal Custody 

Legal custody pertains to the decision-making authority regarding important life decisions for the child including education, healthcare, discipline, insurance, and religion. In most cases, both parents receive legal custody. However, if one parent demonstrates that they should not have legal custody, the judge may temporarily or permanently take it away.

If two parents share legal custody, but they cannot make agree on a decision for a major life event for the child, they must attend mediation to reach an agreement. Some of these cases even go before the judge.

Factors that Determine Custody: 

The court considers several factors when determining child custody in order to ensure the best interest of the child are met. These factors help the court make decisions that promote the child’s overall well-being and provide a stable, nurturing environment. 

  • The child’s age and development: 
  • Child’s relationship with each parent
  • The environment of each home 
  • Any history of domestic violence or abuse
  • The mental health and emotional stability of each parent 
  • Any substance abuse issues
  • The child’s preferences (depending on the child’s age) 
  • Continuity and Stability 
  • Cultural and Religious Considerations 
  • Each parent’s ability to co-parent and promote a positive relationship with the other parent

Modification of the Custody Arrangement

If there are significant changes in circumstances or if the current arrangement no longer serves the child’s best interests, it can be modified. Common reasons for modification include relocation, remarriage, or changes in the parent’s ability to care for the child.

Modifying custody arrangements requires filing a formal request with the court and demonstrating a substantial change in circumstances. The court will always prioritize the best interests of the child when considering modification requests.

Child custody arrangements in California involve various types of physical and legal custody, visitation rights, and the creation of parenting plans. The court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child when determining custody arrangements. Understanding what factors determine custody and the different types of custody arrangements can help parents make informed decisions.