Types of Child Custody

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Child custody is often one of the most contentious issues that must be determined when spouses divorce or a couple chooses to part ways. However, parents who are separating must ensure that their children’s best interests are first and foremost when determining custody matters. It is important to understand the different types of child custody in California in order to create a child custody arrangement that will meet your children’s needs and help ensure they foster a healthy relationship with each parent.

What are the Different Types of Child Custody?

In California, there are two different types of child custody: “physical custody” and “legal custody.” Physical custody refers to the time each parent spends caring for their child. Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make important decisions for the child concerning their child’s health, education and welfare. Either of these types of child custody can be “sole” (belonging only to one parent) or “joint” (belonging to both parents).

Parents often decide their custody arrangement and parenting time schedule outside of court. It is generally a good idea to put agreements in writing and submit them to the court to make those agreements into written court orders. However, if parents are unable to reach an agreement, a judge may need to decide the outcome at a contested hearing according to the best interests of your child.

What Are Joint and Sole Legal Custody?

When legal custody is joint, it means that both parents have a right to share in the decision-making for the child. In other words, each parent has the legal authority to make decisions concerning the child’s welfare. Courts typically prefer to grant joint legal custody to allow both parents to have a say in important decisions that must be made in their child’s life. Parents who share legal custody have a right to be equally involved in making decisions regarding the following:

  • The child’s healthcare
  • Medical treatment and vaccinations for the child
  • The religion the child
  • The schools the child will attend
  • Educational matters and resources such as tutoring
  • The child’s participation in extracurricular activities
  • Sports, summer camp, vacation, and travel

In some cases, joint legal custody may not be possible. If a parent is unfit, or there are extenuating circumstances such as abuse or family violence, a court may give sole legal custody to just one parent. Sole legal custody may also be granted in situations where parents live in different time zones and joint decision-making might not always be practical. With sole legal custody, one parent would have the exclusive and sole right to make all the crucial decisions regarding their child’s welfare without the other parent’s input.

What is a Joint Physical Custody Arrangement?

In cases where physical custody is joint, a child will spend substantial time with both parents (not necessarily equal time). This arrangement allows both parents to have a significant amount of parenting time with their children. When a parent spends an insignificant amount of time with a parent, that parenting time is often referred to as “visitation.” The name we use for it is often less important than the actual time spent with each parent. Except under certain circumstances, the law favors child custody orders that provide for frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

What Are the Reasons to Obtain Sole Physical Custody?

Sole physical custody may be appropriate in situations involving long-distance parenting situations, domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or substance abuse/irresponsible alcohol consumption. Generally, a parent will only be able to obtain sole physical custody in these types of extreme cases.

When there are safety issues and the child’s welfare is at risk in the custody of a parent, a court may order supervised visitation. In these situations, a third party (usually a professional mandated reporter with special training) would supervise the visit and make every effort to keep the child safe, free from physical harm or abduction, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or inappropriate non-child-centered communications. In some cases, the visitation supervisor may be a non-professional supervisor who signs special paperwork attesting to their understanding of their important role in maintaining the safety of the child.

Contact an Experienced California Child Custody Attorney

Child custody issues can be overwhelming and stressful, with outcomes based on fact-intensive considerations. Having a trusted child custody attorney by your side who can offer guidance and resources can make a difference for your family. Located in Walnut Creek, Bednarczyk & Valerio, LLP offers compassionate counsel and skillful advocacy to clients in California for a wide variety of family law issues, including child custody matters. Call (925) 464-2494 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.

Categories: Child Custody