California’s Child Custody Laws

California has a specific guideline for determining child custody. Here’s everything you need to know about child custody laws in California.

What Is Child Custody in California?

Child custody is a parent’s legal right and obligation to be responsible for a child. Under California law, child custody is separated into two categories: physical custody and legal custody. In a divorce or separation, terms of child custody must be determined.

How Is Child Custody Determined in California?

A judge may consider the following factors when determining child custody in California:

  • The child’s best interests
  • The child’s desires (if they are over the age of 12)
  • Parental fitness
  • Each parent’s record of domestic or substance abuse

“Parental fitness” refers to the ability of each parent to be responsible for the child. An unfit parent does not meet the needs of the child. A judge may consider which parent the child prefers to live with if the child is over 12 years old. A judge can also order a 730 evaluation to determine a child’s family situation. While these factors are important when determining child custody, a judge will standardly consider the child’s best interests.

What does the child’s “best interest” mean?

The child’s best interests standard refers to conditions that will ultimately foster the child’s welfare. A judge will consider the child’s best interests to make a custody order that upholds the health, safety, and well-being of the child.

Factors That Determine Child Custody in California

1. Child’s Best Interests

The driving factor in custody cases is the child’s best interests. The ultimate goal of custody proceedings is to reach a child custody order that upholds the child’s welfare. The child’s best interests is the legal standard used to determine child custody.

2. Child’s Desires

Under California law, a judge may consider a child’s preferences when making a custody order if the child is over the age of 12. A court will not consider a child’s preferences if the judge believes the child is not old or mature enough to choose a preference. The child’s desires play a vital role and can give insight into the child’s relationship with each parent. In custody proceedings, a child can be asked to testify as to which parent they prefer to live with.

3. Parental Fitness

Parental fitness refers to one’s ability to parent. A mother or father may be deemed unfit to parent if they fail to meet the child’s needs. The judge may consider a parent’s record of domestic violence or substance use when determining their ability to care for the child. A parent’s mental, physical, and emotional stability may also be considered when determining their ability to meet the child’s needs.

Related: How to File for Child Custody in California

Determining the Child’s Best Interests

California judges use the child’s best interests as the legal standard when determining custody. To determine the child’s best interests, a judge may consider the child’s

  • Desires (if the child is over 12 years old)
  • Age
  • Needs
  • Relationship with each parent

A court will consider the medical and psychological needs of the child to help determine their best interests. Some children need more attention and care than others; a child with certain medical needs may require more care. The child’s relationship with each parent and family member is also considered. If a child is not on good terms with their mother or father, it may not be suitable for them to live with that individual. The ultimate goal of considering the child’s best interests is to make a child custody order that will best foster their well-being.

Related: Types of Child Custody and Visitation in California

Types of Custody

Child custody is classified into two separate categories: legal and physical. Physical and legal custody are not mutually exclusive or dependent; a parent with full legal custody can have limited physical custody, and vice versa.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right and responsibility to make significant decisions for the child. Parents with legal custody have the authority to make decisions relating to their child’s:

  • Education
  • Religious activities
  • Healthcare
  • Travel
  • Residence
  • Extracurricular activities

A parent can have joint or sole legal custody of their child.

Joint Legal Custody

In joint legal custody arrangements, both parents have the right to make significant decisions for their child. Each parent can have authority over certain decisions, or both parents can convene when making any major decision.

Sole Legal Custody

In sole legal custody arrangements, only one parent has the legal authority to make significant decisions on the child’s behalf.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is a parent’s right and responsibility to care for a child. Physical custody arrangements determine who a child will spend their time with. A parent can have joint, primary, or sole physical custody.

Joint Physical Custody

Parents with joint physical custody split time with children equally. In joint physical custody arrangements, a child may spend half of the week at their mom’s house and the other half at the dad’s house.

Primary Physical Custody

In primary physical custody arrangements, the child lives mainly with one parent and routinely stays with the other parent.

Sole Physical Custody

Sole legal custody means that child lives with one parent and occasionally visits the other parent.

For answers to frequently asked questions about child custody laws in California, click here.

Free Consultation with a Child Custody Lawyer in California

If you want to know more about child custody laws in California, contact us. We’ll get you in touch with the most qualified lawyer for your unique legal matter. Get your free consultation with one of our Child Custody Attorneys in California today!