For divorcing spouses with children, child custody is almost always the most hotly contentious issue in California, even more than child support, spousal support, and property division. No parent relishes the idea of an impartial judge deciding how much time than can spend with their own children. But for fathers, common misconceptions and outdated ideas may intensify this fear. For decades, courts commonly presumed that children were best served by staying with their mothers after a divorce, but today, most states—including California—have done away with using that perception when deciding on matters of child custody.
In California today, the courts do not give preferential treatment to the mother—or to the father. Today’s standard is to rule in the best interests of the child when deciding on child custody.
Is California a 50/50 State for Child Custody?
While California is a state where joint legal custody is a common outcome for divorced parents, the courts do not mandate a 50/50 split. Instead, the courts adhere to the goal of acting in the best interests of a child, which may not always be a 50/50 split, especially if one parent works long hours or travels extensively. Instead, California considers many relevant factors to make decisions on the physical and legal custody of children. But first, it’s important to understand what does NOT affect these decisions. Family courts in California never consider the following factors when addressing child custody matters:
- The parents’ biological sex
- Parents’ sexual orientation
- Parent’s financial status
Instead of the above factors, the courts carefully weigh the following when making decisions on child custody matters:
- The emotional bond between each parent and the child
- The amount of caretaking time each parent devotes to the child
- The location of each parent’s residence to the child’s school and to each other
- Any history of criminality, abuse, or addiction for each parent
The courts have broad discretion in deciding on child custody by adhering to the standard of deciding in the best interests of the child.
Legal and Physical Child Custody in California
In California, the courts encourage parents to meet, together with their Los Angeles child custody attorneys, to try to settle the issue of child custody on their own through a custody and parenting time agreement that suits them both. When parents are able to communicate and compromise, they are often in the best position to decide what’s best for their children. Their lawyers can help them write up a custody agreement that the courts will accept as in the child’s best interests. Any agreement must address both legal and physical custody of the children. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions for a child including:
- Medical decisions
- Educational decisions
- Religious decisions
- Decisions on extracurricular activities
Physical custody addresses which parent the child predominantly resides with or the framework put in place for children to share time residing with each parent.
If parents can’t come to a mutually acceptable child custody arrangement, the court must step in to decide for them.
Options for Child Custody in California
While every case is unique and California family court judges carefully consider the individual circumstances of every case to decide in the best interests of the child, they typically begin by examining four common custody options:
- Joint full custody to both parents
- Sole full custody to one parent with visitation by the other
- Physical custody with one parent and legal custody to the other
- One parent with physical custody and legal custody while the other has joint legal custody
If you have questions about divorce and child custody in California, an experienced divorce attorney can answer your questions and protect your rights and interests throughout the process.