How Is Child Custody Handled In California?

child custody

Similar to most states, California courts determine child custody terms based on the child’s best interests. This means that courts look at the child’s health, safety, welfare, and other relevant circumstances when deciding custody terms.

Family law judges may also consider the parents’ custody preferences and the child’s wishes if the child is of sufficient age. Child custody matters are often emotional and contentious for parents.

In some cases, these matters can be worked out through mediation and negotiations between parents along with their respective attorneys. When parents cannot agree, custody decisions are left to California family law courts to determine.

Two Types Of Child Custody

Two types of child custody must be determined: physical and legal custody. Physical custody involves where a child lives most of the time. Depending on the circumstances, custody orders may provide that a child splits time equally between both parents, or one parent might be awarded more custodial time while the other parent has visitation rights.

Legal custody involves making important decisions for a child, such as where they go to school, healthcare decisions, and religious upbringing. Courts can award legal and physical custody separately or together. For example, courts might award joint physical and legal custody to both parents, or one parent may be awarded sole legal custody while both are awarded joint physical custody.

Custodial Preference

The courts will grant custody in the following order of preference depending on what is best for the child:

  • To both parents jointly or to either parent. When granting custody to one parent, courts are to consider which parent is likely to allow frequent and regular contact with the noncustodial parent.
  • If custody is not granted to the parents, then custody may be awarded to the person the child has been living with if it is a wholesome and stable environment for the child.
  • To anyone else that the court deems suitable and able to provide care to the child.

It is important to understand that there is no judicial preference nor presumption for or against joint or sole custody. This means that judges and parents have broad discretion in determining custody terms that are in the child’s best interests.

Child Custody And Parental Agreement

Sometimes parents can agree to custody and visitation terms, but it is up to the courts to decide when they can’t. However, courts often do not like to make these decisions and will order parents to try to reach an agreement through mediation.

When parents agree to a custody and visitation schedule, they may submit a parenting plan to the court for approval. A court order ensures that the custody arrangement is enforceable. Courts typically approve plans that parents agree to so long as the terms are in the child’s best interests.

The Child’s Best Interest

As mentioned above, custody is based on the best interest standard. In determining what is best for the child, courts will consider several factors, such as the child’s bond with each parent, each parent’s ability to care for the child, and the child’s ties to the school and community.

Other considerations may include whether there are substance abuse or domestic violence issues and the child’s age. In cases where children are older, courts may also consider the children’s preferred custody arrangements.

The Child’s Preference

California law provides that when children reach a sufficient age and capacity, their feelings and opinions may be considered when determining custody. Children 14 years or older will usually be permitted to speak to the court about custody and visitation unless the judge believes that addressing the court would not be healthy for the child.

Although the court will listen to mature children about their living arrangement desires, the child’s best interest remains the standard in custody cases for older children. This means that the children’s preferences are only one of many factors that judges consider.

Meet With A California Child Custody Attorney

Contact the Law Offices of Bruce A. Mandel to meet with a California child custody attorney at 424-250-9130 or fill out an online contact form. Bruce is a family law lawyer with more than 30 years of experience representing clients in child custody and support matters.

He knows that, in many cases, nothing is more important to his clients than securing their child custody rights and responsibilities. He will work with you to pursue the best possible outcome in your child custody case.

Follow the Law Offices of Bruce A. Mandel on Facebook to learn more about Bruce’s practice.

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