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California Child Custody
Child Custody in California

According to the California Family Code, the standard for child custody determinations in California is the overall best interest of the child with an emphasis on assuring the "health, safety, and welfare" of the child and "frequent and continuing contact" with both parents.

Mandatory Parenting Class

California courts often require all divorcing parents with minor children to complete a mandatory parenting class before granting a divorce. This requirement is designed to help parents and children deal with the trauma of divorce and separation. Unless the court grants a waiver, both parents must typically complete this requirement. Rather than give up an afternoon or evening taking your course in a crowded classroom, you can fulfill this requirement conveniently online at a very reasonable cost. We recommend you take Children in Between Online" to fulfill your court requirement and for the benefit of your children.

The Best Interest of the Child

California courts, like courts in other jurisdictions, place the best interests of the child above the wishes of the parents. The California "best interest" standard varies very little from those in other jurisdictions. By law, in determining a child's best interest, the court considers certain factors including:

  • his or her age and health;
  • the emotional bond between parents and child;
  • the ability of the parents to care for their child;
  • a history of family violence or substance abuse in the home; and
  • the adaptation of the child has to his or her home, school and community.

Joint Custody Preference

California law expresses a preference for parents to share as equally as possible in the custody of their child. California acknowledges certain types of custody arrangements that are sole or joint, legal and physical.

Divorcing spouses can have joint custody and also share legal custody, which the courts consider the optimal arrangement and one they strive to achieve. One parent can also be awarded primary physical custody, with both parents sharing legal custody. It's difficult to ensure that physical custody is shared 50-50 between both parents; in California, the parent who does not have the child 50 percent of the time is awarded visitation, with the other parent receiving primary physical custody.

Legal custody refers to the parent who has the right to make big decisions about the child's life - his or her schools, religious observation, psychological counseling if necessary and medical providers if there is no state of emergency.

Physical custody refers to the parent who has physical possession of the child most of the time. In joint physical custody situations, the child usually spends marginally more time with one parent, referred to as the "primary custodial parent."

In rare situations, the court awards exclusive custody to one parent, who then has both physical and legal custody of the children. This happens very seldom.

Consideration of Child's Wishes

The wishes of the child, so long as he or she is of "sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody," are taken into consideration when deciding a child custody case. According to the California Family Code, the child's preference is given "due weight" and weighed against other factors.

Third Party Custody

In some cases, a third party, or someone other than a child's biological parents, seeks to gain custody of a child. California Family Code provides for a non-parent to take legal and/or physical custody of children if the court determines that both parents are detrimental to the child's upbringing.

Such parents may have visitation or supervised visitation. Such visitation is usually the case with registered sex offenders, or any parent who has been convicted of child abuse and the other parent is absent.

California courts lean hard toward parents having custody whenever possible. The ideal set forth in Section 3040 (a) is that joint custody is the first choice of a judge, followed by a person in whose home a child has continually resided and lastly, to anyone else judged to be able to provide adequate care.

Parental Conduct

In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child.


In California, courts use the word timeshare for visitation. As a rule, the parent who has the child less than 50 percent of the year is the "visitation parent." A visitation agreement spells out the time-sharing arrangement for a parent who does not have physical custody of a child.

The California courts have full discretion when determining visitation. The courts can establish visitation between one or more parent, even if both parents agreed upon a no-visitation policy. In extreme cases, a court decides that no visitation with one parent is appropriate, if even supervised visitation does not ensure the safety of the child.

California also provides for supervised visitation in instances in which being left alone with one parent could endanger the child's welfare.

Supervised visitation may be awarded to a parent when the court has doubts about a child's safety and welfare in the care of one parent. Supervised visitation may entail that the other parent be present or someone from a professional agency. When parents agree, it is helpful to include a visitation plan in a parenting plan.

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