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What child custody arrangements are possible in California?

Child custody can be a significant and emotional concern for many parents entering the divorce process. Because of the sensitive and important nature of child custody, divorcing couples may wonder what child custody arrangements are possible and likely.

There are two primary components of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to who the child will live with on a daily basis. Legal custody refers to who has the authority to make major decisions for the child, such as the child's schooling, health care and religious upbringing. In addition, custody may be joint, or shared, or sole.

Joint custody refers to custody shared by parents. It can be legal, physical, or both. When parents share joint legal custody they share the rights and responsibilities for making major decisions for the child. Joint physical custody, on the other hand, essentially means that the child will split his or her time between each parent's house. In other words, both parents have more than visitation rights and share frequent and substantial contact with the child as the child spends blocks of time at the homes of each parents.

Sole custody occurs when one parent has custody of the child and the non-custodial parent may have visitation rights depending on the circumstances. Sole custody can be legal or physical or both. Sole legal custody is another type of custody arrangement when one parent has the right and responsibility to make major decisions for the child and does not have to consult the other parent prior to making those decisions. The parent with sole physical custody is responsible for the day-to-day physical care and supervision of the child. When both parents desire sole custody of any type, the court may consider different factors, including which parent will promote frequent and continuing contact with the non-custodial parent.

Child custody plans are always based on a determination of what is in the best interests of the child. Understanding what to expect from the child custody process, and how the family law systems seeks to help families going through a divorce, can help minimize some of the anxiety parents may feel. Oftentimes, this understanding can be acquired by speaking with a qualified family law attorney.

Source: WomensLaw.org, "Custody," accessed on Dec. 30, 2015

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