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Different Types Of Child Custody Arrangements And What They Mean

Different Types Of Child Custody Arrangements And What They Mean

Custody arrangements provide terms that may address legal custody, physical custody, and visitation rights. Parents can negotiate with each other to determine custody and visitation schedules. When they cannot reach an agreement on their own, they may attempt to settle their differences through mediation.

When negotiations and mediations are unsuccessful, parents have to turn to California family courts. California courts typically prefer that parents work child custody matters out on their own, but when they cannot agree to custody terms, a family law judge will decide.

Legal custody

Legal custody refers to making important decisions for your child’s healthcare, education, and welfare. Legal custody is not physical custody, which is about your child’s living arrangements and is described in the section below. The two types of legal custody are joint custody and sole custody.

Sole custody means that one parent has the exclusive right and responsibility to make the important decisions for the child. Joint custody means that both parents have a say in making legal decisions related to matters such as schooling, childcare, religious upbringing, medical issues, and extracurricular activities.

Physical custody

As mentioned above, physical custody is related to where your child lives the majority of the time. There are two types of physical custody: primary and joint. Primary custody is sometimes referred to as sole physical custody, and it means that your child lives with one parent more than the other.

Joint physical custody is sometimes called shared custody and means that your child splits time living with each parent. In a joint custody situation, your child spends an approximately equal amount of time living with each parent.

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as domestic abuse or neglect, California courts want children to have frequent and consistent contact with both parents. Many practical and emotional factors go into deciding physical custody, and even if your child spends more time living with one parent, the other parent may have visitation rights.


Visitation may be ordered when a child spends more than half of his or her time living with one parent, and the time the child spends with the other parent is called visitation. Depending on your family circumstances, a visitation order may include a set schedule detailing when and how much time your child spends with each parent.

You may also have a more flexible visitation order called reasonable visitation. Reasonable visitation leaves scheduling to the parents to work out how much time and when each parent will be with your child. Reasonable visitation works when parents can work together with open communication about scheduling matters.

In most cases, visitation is unsupervised, which means that the parent with visitation can be alone with his or her child. Supervised visitation is ordered when it is in the child’s best interests to have another person present during parental visits.

Informal Agreements And Court Orders

In many cases, parents agree to custody terms, and they reach an informal custody schedule to follow. Informal agreements are not enforceable if they have not been approved by the court, which means that there is no legal remedy if one parent violates the terms of the agreement.

Parents may reduce their agreement to writing and submit it to the court for approval to make custody arrangements enforceable. Since court-approved custody arrangements are enforceable, parents will be held accountable for violating the agreement.

Custody decisions are based on the child’s best interests in California. As mentioned above, family law judges prefer to let parents work through custody and visitation matters to reach an agreement. However, judges will only sign off on agreements that they believe benefit the child’s health, safety, and welfare.

California Child Custody Attorney

California child custody attorney Bruce A. Mandel understands that there may be nothing more important to you than protecting your parental rights. He has represented parents in child custody cases for more than 30 years, and he knows that every family matter is unique. He will work with you to understand your particular child custody situation and legal goals.

Contact our office to schedule a free consultation at 424-250-9130 or click here to reach us online, and we will get in touch with you. We know you want the best for your child, and we will work with you to secure the best possible outcome in your child custody matter. Follow us on Facebook for more information about our law firm and California child custody and family law.