Mother and daughter on beach

Understanding Child Custody Laws in California

If you have children, determining custody will be a major aspect of your divorce agreement. It can also be a source of stress for parents concerned about losing their rights or no longer having as much time to spend with their children. Fortunately, family courts in California often believe that maintaining a positive and meaningful relationship with both parents is in the best interest of the child.

Deciding Custody and Visitation

When making a ruling, judges will often look for what’s in the “best interest of the child.” This means that the courts will look at many factors when trying to determine a good plan. Some things they’ll consider are:

  • How old the child is.
  • The child’s mental and physical health.
  • The type of relationship a child has with each parent.
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child (income, work schedule, nearby family, etc.).
  • Any history of family violence or substance abuse.
  • The child’s ties to their community and school.

Child Support

In addition to a custody order, a judge will probably also make a ruling on child support payments. And while it’s true that support orders and custody agreements are separate, they’re related because the amount of time each parent spends with the children will affect the amount of child support.

But because they’re separate agreements, you can’t use visitation as a way of demanding payments. For example, a mother can not refuse to let her ex see their child until child support is paid. Similarly, a person can’t refuse to pay child support just because their ex is not letting them see their children.

Legal vs. Physical Custody

There are two types of child custody in California — legal and physical.

Legal custody pertains to who can make important decisions regarding the child’s overall wellness. This would include “big picture” matters like healthcare, education, and religion. Legal custody can also be joint or sole. If it’s joint custody, both parents share the responsibility of making decisions and must work together to come to a mutual agreement. If one parent is awarded sole legal custody, he or she can make all decisions regarding the child’s welfare.

Physical custody refers to who a child lives with and can also be joint or sole. If both parents have joint physical custody, it means the child lives with both parents regularly (for example, weekdays with mom and weekends with dad). Sole custody would mean children live with one parent most of the time and usually visit their other parent.

Supervised VIsits

Completely cutting ties between a parent and child is rarely what’s in the best interest of the child. Therefore, supervised visitation allows the two to preserve their parent-child relationship, without potentially endangering the child’s wellbeing.

There are many reasons why a judge would request supervised visitation. Some common reasons include past drug and alcohol abuse, risk of abduction, a history of neglect, and serious concerns about the adult’s ability to be a responsible parent.

Typically, supervised visits are not permanent. Rather, the goal of supervised visitation is to allow the parent and child to bond while the parent receives help (such as a drug rehab program) or takes parenting classes.

Can My Ex Relocate with Our Child?

Even if one parent has sole custody, they can not move far away or out of state unless they have the court’s approval. If one parent wants to relocate, they must have a valid reason that will ultimately be in the best interest of the child. Some valid reasons for a location could include:

  • New job opportunities.
  • Educational opportunities.
  • Moving to be closer to extended family who will help raise the child.

Family Law San Diego is dedicated to one thing: helping families move through intense and often difficult changes smoothly and effectively. Schedule a consultation today by calling our divorce attorneys in San Diego at (619) 577-4900 or complete our convenient online contact form.