Whether you are setting up a child custody arrangement or wanting to modify one, it is a good idea to be prepared for how child custody decisions are made. Under California law, child custody decisions are based on a set of factors that courts consider in order to determine the best interests of the child.
Best interests of the child
In making these decisions, courts consider, among other things, the child’s age and health; the emotional bonds between the child and their parents or guardians, and between the child and their school and community; the parents’ ability to care for the child; and any history of violence or substance abuse in the family.
Physical and legal custody
Child custody arrangements can look different in different circumstances and both legal and physical custody of the child must be determined. Physical custody refers to living with the child and legal custody refers a parent’s right to make important decisions for their child. In most cases, each parent has rights to both types of custody. Parents who are developing a custody plan on their own will typically find a way to share these types of custody. In cases where the court is deciding on child custody, it will show a preference for shared physical and legal custody. Even in cases where the child lives primarily with one parent, the other parent will typically have rights with regard to making decisions that affect the child’s health or education.
Sharing parental responsibilities
California uses the term “visitation” or “time-share” when discussing the sharing of parental responsibilities. In many cases, the parents will develop a schedule for sharing physical and legal custody, which may include having the child spend a certain number of days at one parent’s house and another number of days at the other parent’s. It will also spell out the parents’ rights and responsibilities for legal custody. This schedule is known as a parenting plan.
The court makes the final decision on child custody but typically approves a well-drafted parenting plan. If you are facing child custody concerns, it helps to know about family law resources that can help with those concerns and how child custody is determined.