Children’s Custody 101: Rules on California Parenting Duties
What California Parents Should Know
One of the major considerations – and arguably the most stressful – when dealing with an ongoing separation or divorce or dealing with the aftermath of one is children’s custody. On top of the troubles and pressures of breaking up and ending a relationship with a significant other is sorting out the affairs of the children, too.
Get the best ally in ensuring the welfare and protection of your children in a custody battle by hiring competent lawyers that are specifically trained and experienced in family law. Embolden Law PC Attorneys-at-Law in Santa Rosa, California can provide you with the legal guidance and representation in getting the best custody arrangement for your children.
Meantime, learn about the types of custody arrangements available in California and the custody laws that apply when divorcing parents don’t agree.
What is child custody?
Child custody refers to the care, control, and maintenance of a child, which a court may award to one of or both parents following a divorce or separation proceeding. Getting child custody gains the ability to make decisions on the child’s upbringing.
Visitation, on the other hand, refers to the time each parent will spend with their children.
Parents have the inherent right to make all the decisions regarding their biological children if they are married. Legal complications only arise if the parents are unmarried or have split. Based on the law, the family courts can determine custody should parents disagree on custody or even intervene when government officials think that a parent is not physically or mentally fit to raise the child.
In California, a child’s custody may be awarded to either parent or shared by both parents. A mediator from Family Court Services meets the parents to discuss children’s custody. Should parents disagree on the custody arrangement, the judge determines custody and visitation. However, preference is always given to an agreed parenting plan by both parents.
When there are no children involved and the former couple has no disagreements regarding property distribution, divorce may be entered into without an attorney or what is known as a “pro se divorce.” However, when children are involved, having a lawyer is important.
Custody cases can run for months in court and could take a huge emotional toll on former spouses and their children. Resolving such cases swiftly could shield your child from escalating tensions and how your lawyer takes on your case is a crucial factor in getting such an outcome.
What are the types of custody orders?
There are two types of custody orders: legal custody and physical custody.
Legal Custody is the right to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, education, and health and wellness. These decisions include participation in religious activities, choice of schools, and medical care (except in emergencies).
Joint Legal Custody
According to the California Family Code, both parents will share the right and the responsibility to make important decisions such as the child’s upbringing, education, and health and wellness in joint legal custody.
Having joint legal custody, however, does not automatically mean that both parents also have joint physical custody. More on joint physical custody later.
Sole Legal Custody
In sole legal custody, the family court has decided to give custody to only one parent. This parent will have the rights and responsibilities to make all important decisions relating to the child’s welfare, education, and health. In this case, the other parent need not be consulted or taken into consideration on matters involving the child.
Awarding joint legal custody is quite common in California. However, courts typically award sole legal custody when one parent is found unfit, when parents are totally ineffectual in making decisions together or when sole legal custody is in the child’s best interests.
It is also important to note that having sole legal custody does not automatically mean that the parent also has sole physical custody.
Following the parent’s divorce, separation, or annulment of marriage, the child will live with the parent awarded primary physical custody by the family court. This parent is called the custodial or residential parent. The other parent is referred to as the noncustodial or nonresidential parent. The parent not awarded with physical custody is typically granted visitation rights.
The child’s best interest is the primary consideration in the decision to award physical custody and visitation rights. Parents with a record of domestic violence and abuse will not be granted physical custody and may be ordered with supervised visits or supervised parenting time.
Joint Physical Custody
When both parents have been awarded equal or close to equal periods of physical custody, this means that the parents have joint physical custody.
Sole Physical Custody
In sole physical custody, the child primarily lives with one parent while the other parent needs the authority of the court for visitation rights.
If one parent is awarded sole physical custody, the other parent will usually have visitation rights so as to ensure that the child will still have adequate time and bond with the noncustodial parent. In extreme cases when the other parent has a record of abuse, they are not awarded any visitation rights at all.
A court-approved visitation schedule may involve overnight visits on alternating weekends, splitting school vacations between both parents, and extended summer visitations.
Moreover, the visitation schedule will also spell out the locations and times of child pick-up and drop-off, including which parent will provide transportation. Again, the courts will prefer a visitation schedule agreed upon by both parents so as to consider the personal and work schedule of both parties.
Supervised Parenting Time
A supervised parenting time is awarded to a noncustodial parent with a history of domestic violence, abuse, a record of absence, and/or neglect. Supervised visits most often take place in court-approved locations instead of the noncustodial parent’s home and will involve a visitation supervisor assigned by the court.
Other stipulations may be imposed by the family court depending on the circumstances. A parent with a record of drug use and abuse may be required to undergo treatment and meetings prior to the approval of unsupervised visitation.
Do Not Lose Custody Over Your Children
Undergoing the divorce process or getting a legal separation is already stressful enough. Losing a partner or spouse is inevitable in a divorce, separation, or annulment. Do not lose custody of your children, too! Child custody is a complicated legal process. Don’t hire just any attorney. Seek legal help from someone who is familiar with the intricacies of California family law to guide you in filing for child custody.
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