Parents who get divorced must try to agree on a custody arrangement for any minor children that they have together. In California, there are two distinct types of custody: legal and physical. Each type of custody refers to a different right to participate in a child’s life.When making custody arrangements, parents should understand the importance of each type of custody.

What is Legal Custody?

Legal custody refers to a parent’s authority to make decisions about important aspects of their child’s life, including those about education, religion, housing, and medical treatment. Having legal custody basically empowers a parent to make the decisions that are of the utmost importance in a child’s life.

Joint vs. Sole Legal Custody

Joint Legal Custody

California courts prefer to award joint custody of a child whenever possible. Joint legal custody means that both parents share in the right to make decisions in their child’s life. When parents share legal custody of a child they should collaborate on decisions and try to do what is in that child’s best interest. Parents do not always have to consult with one another when making decisions. However, if a parent, sharing legal custody of a child, makes important decisions without consulting the other parent, they may face penalties. In serious situations, a parent may even be held in contempt of court and face adverse custody decisions.

Sole Legal Custody

Sole legal custody, on the other hand, grants all decision making powers to one parent. A court may decide to award sole legal custody if a parent demonstrates that they are not fit to make decisions or are not present in a child’s life. For example, a parent with legal custody would have the right to allow a doctor to perform a medical procedure on their child. A parent without legal custody, however, would not have the ability to make those important decisions.

Physical Custody

Physical custody, on the other hand, authorizes a parent to be present in their child’s life. Children generally live with the parent who is granted physical custody. If both parents share physical custody, the child may split time between the two homes.

Joint vs. Sole Physical Custody

Joint Physical Custody

California courts prefer when both parents share joint physical custody of a child. This generally makes it easier for both parents to stay in frequent and continuing contact with their children. When parents share joint physical custody of a child, each has a right to be physically present in their child’s life. Just because parents share joint physical custody, however, does not mean that the child must split their time equally between the two parents. In most cases, one parent will be considered the primary custodial parent. This simply means that their living arrangement disrupts the child’s life as minimal as possible. For example, the custodial parent would most probably be the one who continues to live in the child’s school district. The other parent would still have physical custody, but would see the child less often. Parents must create a schedule and calendar that creates a balance to suits the child’s needs.

Sole Physical Custody

Sometimes a parent will not be considered fit to take care of their own child. Other times, a parent may move across the country and not be able to be present in their child’s life. In these situations, courts may decide that awarding sole physical custody is appropriate. When sole custody is awarded, it does not mean that the non-custodial parent does not have a right to see their child. Instead, that parent can be awarded visitation rights. Visitation can be supervised or unsupervised, depending on perceived risks to the child. Many times, the parent who does not have physical custody will be responsible for paying child support.

Speak With an Experienced Los Angeles Child Custody Attorney

If you have young children and are thinking about getting a divorce, it is important to think about custody. A divorce will not be finalized unless and until a custody arrangement is reviewed and approved by the court. If parents cannot decide on custody, the court will step in and make unilateral decisions based on what it believes to be in the best interests of the child.

You can avoid interference by the court by thinking ahead and creating a plan with your child’s other parent. This can be difficult, especially if you and your spouse have trouble seeing eye-to-eye. Our experienced Los Angeles child custody attorneys can help. Call us today to learn about your rights as a parent and for help creating a child custody plan.