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Legal vs. Physical Custody in California

In the state of California, parents must create a parenting time and visitation plan for their children when the parents separate or divorce. Parents should try to negotiate this plan themselves before taking the issue of custody before the judge. It is so important for parents to try to decide on custody themselves that they are actually required to attend mediation if they cannot agree on their own. During mediation, a trained third party mediator helps them to communicate and work together to create a plan for sharing their children. Only if mediation fails will the custody case be litigated. child custody in california

Whether parents or a judge decide on the issue of parenting time, it is important for parents to understand the differences between legal vs. physical custody in California. Decisions must be made on both of these types of custody and the choices that are made have a profound impact on the parent/child relationship. An experienced Southern California divorce attorney at Brown & Charbonneau, LLP can help you to develop a parenting time plan, and to understand the key differences between legal vs. physical custody in California.

Understanding Legal vs. Physical Custody in California

Physical custody refers to where the children physically live. Legal custody refers to the authority to make decisions for a child, such as:

  • Where a child should attend school.
  • What religious training a child should receive.
  • What medical and dental treatment a child should receive.

Typically, it is preferred for parents to share physical custody of a child. The parenting plan should outline the amount of time that the child spends under the care of each of his or her parents.  Parents may share time with their children on an equal basis or a close-to-equal basis.

When the parents decide how time is split, or when a judge decides how a child should share time, it is usually in the best interests of the child to maintain a relationship with both of his parents.  However, in limited cases such as when abuse or neglect occurs, one parent may have sole physical custody and the other parent may have limited or supervised visits, or no visitation at all.

Legal custody may also be shared, although this can create ongoing complications if parents disagree on the important decisions relevant to their child.  If one parent has sole or primary physical custody, that parent may be given sole legal authority, but not always. If both parents share custody or remain involved in the child’s life, usually both will have a say on decisions. When parents share legal custody and they are unable to agree on an issue that arises, they may need to go to mediation or even come before a judge to settle their dispute.

Brown & Charbonneau, LLP can help you to argue for your preferred arrangement for physical and legal custody. Our Southern California divorce lawyers can also help you if you share legal custody with your ex and if there is a disagreement over a decision in your child’s life. Call today to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can assist you with divorce, separation and child custody matters. 714-505-3000