What is the Most Common Custody Agreement in California?

15Jan, 23

When a divorce involves children, child custody and child support are two of the most important arrangements that need to be addressed. Child custody refers to the right of a parent to have a child physically live with them or to make legal decisions on their child’s behalf. Many parents going through a divorce are scared they will lose their children, which is why having a child custody lawyer and understanding family law can help you immensely in these situations.

How is Child Custody Determined in California?

Like most other states, California allows all divorcing couples to try and come to agreements on child custody terms on their own or through mediation first. If a couple is unable to come to a mutual decision or has already been going through a highly contested divorce, then the ultimate decision on the matter is given to the family court. The most important job of the court is to always keep the best interests of the children in mind. This is the most significant factor affecting any child custody decision.


In addition to keeping the best interests of the children in mind, the judge will also consider factors such as:

  • Each parent’s individual ability to care for their children
  • Any history of or allegation of abuse or domestic violence
  • Emotional ties of a child to one parent
  • Age-specific needs of a child
  • Children’s preferences
  • Stability in the home
  • Children’s ties to their community (i.e., school, friends, and family)
  • Any history of substance abuse
  • Medical conditions and unique needs for each child

Different Types of Custody in California

There are two main forms of child custody in California. Both have different types of agreements on how the rights can be shared between parents.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the right of a parent or guardian to make important decisions on their children’s behalf. These decisions can include a child’s:

  • Health
  • Welfare
  • Education
  • Religious choices
  • Medical treatments

There are two kinds of legal custody agreements:

  • Sole Legal Custody: A sole legal custody agreement allows only one parent or guardian to make important decisions for their child, while the other parent is legally barred from doing so. Sole custody is often granted when one parent is mostly out of the picture, abusive, or does not seem like they have the capacity to make important decisions for their children.
  • Joint Legal Custody: Joint legal custody is an agreement that grants both parents the right to make legal decisions on their children’s behalf. Because both parents have the right to make these decisions, they do not always have to agree and can make them on their own. However, this can sometimes cause disagreements between parents.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to the right and responsibility of a parent or guardian to care for children physically. This includes providing a stable home, providing their basic needs, such as food and clothes, and making sure that they are safe.

  • Sole Physical Custody: Sole physical custody, also known as primary physical custody, is granted to just one parent or guardian and gives them the right to have a child live with them. If a parent is granted sole physical custody, the noncustodial parent may be given visitation rights to see their children on certain days. In other cases, the noncustodial parent may not have the right to see their children.
  • Joint Physical Custody: Joint physical custody allows both parents to share the right and responsibility of physically caring for their children. Joint custody is different in every case but can include kids living at their mother’s during the school year and their father’s during the summer, or even kids living at their dad’s on the weekend and their mom’s during the week.

The Most Common Type of Custody

For legal custody, joint legal custody is the most common arrangement for separating parents in California. This allows them both to have a say in important decisions for their children. With physical custody, however, the most commonly seen arrangement is often sole or primary custody. This only gives one parent the right to have their children live with them and sometimes allows visitation for the other parent.


Q: Is California a 50/50 Custody State?

A: Divorcing parents in California can have joint custody, but it is not required that it be split 50/50 between parents. Instead, they are allowed to work out a fair schedule as long as they both have a significant amount of time with the children. Their time may be split 50/50, or they may have a different arrangement.

Q: What Is Visitation?

A: Visitation is granted to noncustodial parents and allows them to either visit their children or have them come stay with them. Terms for visitations are decided by different factors in the case. This can include the relationship of the noncustodial parent with their children or the noncustodial parent’s work schedule.

Q: Can You Change a Child Custody Order in California?

A: If you disagree with the court’s custody decision, you can file a petition for a modification. This does not mean the court will grant your request, however. You will have to provide sufficient evidence as to why you believe the order needs to be modified. A child custody attorney can help you build this case.

Q: How Far Apart Can Parents With Joint Custody Live?

A: California law technically considers parents living 20 miles apart as “long distance,” but does not have a set distance for joint custody. In most cases, the distance cannot exceed 50 miles. If you are moving more than 50 miles away, you may need to seek your ex-spouse’s permission to do so. Otherwise, they may file for a reevaluation of the custody agreement.

California Child Custody Assistance

No parent wants to lose touch with their child. That is often why child custody cases can quickly become emotional and full of conflict. At the Law Offices of Michelanne Hrubic, we are devoted to providing compassionate, detail-oriented representation and expert legal advice for our clients. We know that divorces are tough, and when there is conflict, it can be even more difficult. To learn more about how we may be able to help you with child custody matters in Riverside, contact us today.

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