Although squabbles over the family home or a shared vehicle can be tiresome, nothing quite compares to a child custody battle. This type of dispute may conjure up intense emotions among parents, making it challenging to move forward with a sense of professionalism and efficiency. With the guiding hand of a qualified child custody attorney in California, parents can calmly pursue positive results while avoiding common mistakes.
Although it’s true that many custody battles must be resolved through time-consuming, expensive litigation, there is often potential for productive, collaborative discussions between parents.
Whether you are facing an inevitable custody trial or you’d like to discuss options for alternative conflict resolution, the first step is to book a consultation with a family lawyer.
Professional legal assistance may be closer than you realize. Contact Cherish Om Law Office today to learn more about child custody in California.
Understanding Child Custody in California
Child custody falls within the general area of family law in California. Custody arrangements are overseen by civil courts in the Golden State along with divorce, child support, protective orders, adoption, and other aspects of family law. Legal questions regarding child custody may arise after divorce, but parents may also engage in custody battles without ever marrying.
Physical and Legal Child Custody
There are many different types of child custody to consider, but all custody falls into two main categories:
- Legal Custody: This type of custody is something that many parents are unfamiliar with. Put simply, legal custody is about who can make decisions about the child’s upbringing. A parent with legal custody has a say in how their child should be raised. However, that doesn’t mean the child will live with this person.
- Physical Custody: This type of custody is more straightforward. Physical custody is about where the child spends their time. A parent with physical custody is allowed to see their child, and in many cases, they are responsible for the child’s shelter, food, clothing, and other basic necessities.
Joint and Sole Custody
Custody may also be joint or sole in California:
- Joint Custody: This is the most common outcome for parents in California today. When parents have joint custody, they share the various responsibilities and custody rights associated with parenthood.
- Sole Custody: In some cases, a parent may receive sole custody. This means that they shoulder the complete burden of raising their child while also enjoying exclusive parental rights.
Examples of Custody Outcomes in California
All four of the types of custody may be combined, leading to various outcomes:
- Shared Legal Custody: This is the most common type of legal custody in California today. With a shared legal custody arrangement, both parents have a say in how their children will be raised. This means that if one parent wants to make a decision regarding religion, health care, education, or another subject of equal importance, they must first consult with the other parent.
- Sole Legal Custody: In this custody agreement, only one parent has the right to make important decisions regarding the child’s life. They may make changes to the child’s religion, education, and health care at their discretion without any input from the other parent whatsoever.
- Shared Physical Custody: When parents have shared physical custody, it means that the children spend a certain amount of time living with each party. For example, the child may spend the weekends with one parent and the weekdays with the other. This type of parenting plan is very common in California.
- Sole Physical Custody: If a parent has sole physical custody, it means that the child stays only at their home. Although the non-custodial parent may still have the opportunity to see their child according to a visitation schedule, the child only lives at the residence of the other parent – known as the “primary custodial guardian.”
To summarize, parents commonly share both legal and physical custody in California. This means that the most common outcome is equal parenting time with the children and equal decision-making roles in the parenting process. The two are not mutually exclusive, however. In other words, it is possible to have joint legal custody without sharing physical custody.
The Child Custody Process in California
Factors When Determining Custody in California
There is one very important concept that parents should familiarize themselves with when approaching child custody disputes in California: the best interest of the child. If the family court needs to make custody decisions, they will always focus on the best interest of the child.
According to Cal. Fam. Code § 3011, family courts will consider the following factors when determining a child’s best interests:
- The mental and physical health of the child
- The overall safety of the child
- The welfare or well-being of the child
- Whether a parent has a history of abusing children
- Whether a parent has a history of abusing any of their exes
- Written reports provided by law enforcement agencies
- Written reports provided by child protective services
- Written reports provided by any other social welfare agencies
- Court documents
- Medical records
- Reports provided by public or private organizations that provide services to survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence
- How much time the child has spent with each parent
- The nature of the child’s relationship with each parent
- Whether a parent has a history of substance abuse
Cal. Fam. Code § 3011 also goes out of its way to state what the court will not consider when making a custody determination:
- The sex of either parent
- The gender identity of either parent
- The gender expression of either parent
- The sexual orientation of a parent
So, even though you may have heard that moms always get custody, that’s not really how it works in California. Courts are going to carefully consider what is in the best interest of the child.
Your attorney can help you prepare to demonstrate how these factors apply to your situation.
Can I Modify a Custody Arrangement?
Defining a Change in Circumstance
Even though child custody arrangements are legally binding, it is possible to modify them in the future. Note that parents can only petition to modify these arrangements if there has been a substantial change in circumstances. These must be major changes that affect the child’s best interests, and this once again highlights the importance of understanding these best interests.
Examples of situations that might warrant a modification include:
- Abuse of the child
- Neglect of the child
- A disability suffered by either parent
- A substance abuse issue developed by either spouse
- Financial issues that prevent one parent from caring for their child
- Disputes over major parenting decisions (in the case of shared legal custody)
What if I Don’t Agree with the Way My Ex is Raising My Child?
Many parents disagree on the most appropriate way to raise their children. In child custody cases where one parent has sole legal custody, this becomes a moot point. However, serious legal battles may arise if both parents share legal custody of the child.
For example, one parent might not believe that a certain medical procedure is necessary. In some instances, parents disagree over their child’s vaccine schedule. One may want to fully vaccinate the child, while the other wants to avoid certain vaccinations. Both parents may think they have the child’s best interest in mind. However, ultimately, a family court sometimes has to get involved to figure out how to pursue the child’s best interest.
Often, the family court grants temporary legal custody to one parent, giving them a one-time ability to have complete control over the child’s medical procedures. In other cases, a judge will issue a court order giving one parent total decision-making authority over all medical procedures in the future (but not decisions associated with other child custody matters). Finally, the court may issue a custody order that gives one parent sole legal custody for all decisions in the future.
What Happens if I Leave the State with My Child?
You may be wondering when you’ll be able to leave the state with your child.
Even if you have legal custody of your child, taking them across state lines without permission from the other parent could be considered kidnapping in some cases. This is a serious crime in the State of California. Whether you’re planning a vacation or you’re simply going for a quick drive to Nevada or Arizona, always get permission from your ex and contact a custody lawyer before making any hasty decisions.
Contact Cherish Om Law Today To Learn More About Custody
The various child custody laws and procedures in California can be difficult to fully comprehend. Although an internet article can certainly provide a foundation of knowledge from which to build upon, it cannot offer personalized legal advice in the same way as a family law attorney.
Contact Cherish Om Law today to get started with an effective custody plan. We can guide you through the next steps in an efficient manner, so book your initial consultation now to discuss the most appropriate course of action.