Most parents cherish their relationships with their children and want to spend as much time with them as possible, no matter what happens in their relationship with the other parent. Unfortunately, whether due to divorce, separation, or the end of a relationship between unmarried parents, many parents don’t have the opportunity to be with their children 100% of the time. However, it is ideal that parents share equal time with their children as much as possible.
The California family court system helps make child custody determinations when they become necessary in cases of divorce, separation, or child custody disputes.
Physical vs. Legal Custody
Prior to divorce proceedings — or in anticipation of a child custody case — parents must draft a parenting plan that dictates who should receive which legal custody rights and to what extent. If parents agree on this plan, it can simply be approved by the court. If they don’t, mediation or litigation is necessary to reach a decision. Whatever the process, a parenting plan must include specifications for both physical and legal custody:
- Physical custody describes where the children reside. For example, if a parent has sole physical custody, the other parent must schedule child visitation as approved by the court. If parents share physical custody (also referred to as “joint physical custody”), the child will live with one parent part of the time and with the other parent the rest of the time.
- Legal custody describes which parent or parents will be allowed to make certain decisions for the child. A parent holding sole legal custody has the final say in decisions such as which school the child attends, medical treatment, dental treatment, and religious education. Parents sharing joint legal custody must agree on these choices.
After the parents have created a parenting plan, it must be approved by a judge. Alternatively, if the parents cannot agree on physical or legal custody and proceed to litigation, the judge will assess the circumstances and make a final ruling. In either case, a judge must approve any physical or legal custody arrangements weighed in California family courts, even if the parents agree. Judges attempt to allow both parents to participate as much as possible in the raising of their children.
How Does California Determine Custody?
The California Family Code explicitly states that all custody decisions must be made in the best interests of the child or children involved. For that reason, there is no automatic 50/50 custody assumption in California.
The court does prefer that parents share physical custody of the children, so joint custody is a very common outcome of a child custody case. However, joint custody does not always mean precisely 50/50 custody. The requirement for joint physical custody is only that each parent must spend significant time with their children. That may mean one parent receives as little as 35% of the available time, though joint parenting time typically refers to an arrangement where both parents receive at least 40% of the time.
The court will determine the arrangement that is in the best interests of the child or children in question, whether it is 50/50 custody, primary custody for one parent and visitation on weekends for the other, or somewhere in between.
Meanwhile, legal custody is another matter. Typically, a parent receiving sole physical custody also receives full legal custody. In other situations, joint legal custody is considered when both parents can communicate and serve as healthy co-parents capable of making shared decisions. The court can even award sole decision-making responsibility for certain topics to one parent but maintain joint legal custody in all others. The best interests of the children remain the primary concern.
A: Like many other states, the court’s preference is to allow children to spend ample time with both parents as well as to allow both parents to contribute to important decisions regarding their children. Thus, joint physical and legal custody is favored in California, but only if it contributes to the best interests of the children. Sole physical custody with frequent visitation by the other parent and shared legal custody is the most common custody arrangement in the state.
A: While joint custody is favored in California, it does not always result in a precise 50/50 split. Instead, it often means the child will spend approximately equal time at each parent’s residence and that both parents contribute to major legal decisions. As a result, 50/50 custody may mean an alternating 2-day schedule of living with each parent, a 2-2-3 schedule, or one of many other alternative schedules. Parents with 50/50 custody must also maintain excellent communication to reach agreements regarding decisions for the child.
A: Parents can make joint legal custody decisions regardless of how far apart from one another they live. However, for a 50/50 physical custody arrangement to work, the parents must live close enough to one another to make transporting the child between residences — and maintaining a consistent school setting — feasible. The general rule is that parents should live within 20 miles of one another, though this distance is completely subject to the court’s assessment of the child’s best interests.
A: California, like most other states, cannot legally base a custody decision solely on the gender of the parents involved. Thus, a father can potentially get 50/50 custody of a newborn. However, the state must first determine whether this arrangement is in the child’s best interest. In addition, unmarried fathers or fathers in situations where paternity is uncertain will find that they have no automatic parenting rights and must petition the court for consideration.
Our Riverside Child Custody Lawyers Can Help You
Whether you’re divorcing, experiencing a custody struggle with your child’s other parent, or simply exploring your potential to receive child custody in Riverside, you can count on the team at the Law Offices of Michelanne Hrubic. Our divorce and child custody attorneys provide guidance you can trust so that you can spend the time you deserve with your children. Contact our firm today to request a consultation or more information.