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Child Custody Laws in California

Facing a child custody dispute can be overwhelming. When it comes to child custody, visitation, and child support, finding the right attorney for the job is crucial. You need to know how to make the right decisions so you can get the best possible outcome for your situation. Often times it becomes necessary to get assistance to assure you can reach an appropriate agreement between both parties. Whether you are seeking sole custody, joint custody, physical custody, or something else, contact the Los Angeles Family Law Help Center to learn more about your options.

When facing uncertainty, questions about child custody can become daunting. Many couples all over Los Angeles find themselves in situations just like this every year, and our team of attorneys and law students can help you understand the process.

The Los Angeles Family Law Help Center is an organization committed to facilitating meaningful and equal access to the judicial system. Our unbundled offering means that you can decide exactly what parts of your case you need assistance with, and what part(s) you can handle on your own. This strategy will significantly reduce your overall cost of litigation, which can often cost tens of thousands of dollars. Our unbundled offering is the perfect recipe: you’ll pay less, but still enjoy the effective one-on-one help that you need to move your case forward. All the necessary forms and documents for the respective unbundled service offering will be handled by our team, as dictated by you, and you’ll have the freedom to manage the rest.

If you are seeking assistance in understanding the Legal Process of filing for physical custody, legal custody, joint custody or sole custody of your children, or perhaps seeking assistance in the process of attaining visitation rights, contact the Los Angeles Family Law Help Center today to discuss your options and sort through your situation!

What is Child Custody?

Child custody refers to the rights and responsibilities of parents for their children.

There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is the right and responsibility of parents to make decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of a child. Joint legal custody means both parents share that right and responsibility (Cal. Fam. Code § 3003). Sole legal custody refers to when only one parent has the right and responsibility (Cal. Fam. Code § 3006).

Physical Custody

Physical custody is with whom the child lives with. Joint physical custody means that both parents will have significant periods of time with the child in such a way that ensures a child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents (Cal. Fam. Code  §3004). Joint physical custody does not require that parents split their time 50/50, so long as each parent has significant periods of time with the child. Sole physical custody means the child lives with and is under the supervision of only one parent (Cal. Fam. Code §3007). Sole physical custody means that the child lives with one parent, but may still visit or spend time with the other parent.  Sometimes, this can be referred to as “primary” physical custody.

“Joint custody” as defined by California Family Code § 3002 means that the parents have joint legal custody and joint physical custody.

When Do Issues of Child Custody Arise?

Issues of child custody can arise when:

  • The parents are married and there has been a divorce, legal separation or annulment
  • The parents are unmarried and a parental relationship has been established or needs to be established

When there is an issue of child custody, both parents may be ordered to attend mediation before the court hearing where both parents must make a good-faith attempt to participate and reach an agreement regarding custody and parenting time. If the parents have already come to an agreement on their own, they will not be required to attend mediation and will simply file their agreement in court.

What Does the Court Consider in Child Custody issues?

Pursuant to California Family Code § 3020, California’s public policy focuses on the health, safety, and welfare of a child when making any orders regarding their physical or legal custody or visitation. In addition, California public policy wants to ensure that a child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents and encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing.

The court is given a lot of discretion in determining child custody arrangements, and must consider all of the relevant facts and laws to ensure the best interests of the child are met.

What Does the Court Consider in Determining the Best Interests of a Child?

California Family Code § 3011 states that a court shall consider, among any other factors it finds relevant, the following factors:

  • The health, safety, and welfare of the child
  • Any history of abuse by one parent or any other person seeking custody against any child, the other parent, or a spouse of the parent seeking custody
  • The nature and amount of contact with both parents
  • The habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances, alcohol, or prescribed controlled substances by either parent

Other factors that a court may look at include: the age of the child, any special needs, the child’s relationship with both parents, and, if the child is old enough, the child’s own wishes.

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