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Understanding child custody in California

Of all the issues and disagreements that may arise in a divorce, child custody probably generates more emotional distress than alimony, property division and child support combined. Some divorcing parents use custody of the children as a weapon, while some genuinely believe that the other parent is not fit to have any sort of custody of the children. Many divorcing parents do not understand the different kinds of custody that are allowed under our state's law.

The most immediate issue is deciding which parent will have physical custody of the children, i.e., where will the children live. Physical can be sole or primary, meaning that the child will live with one parent all of the time and only visit the other parent. Custody can also be joint, meaning that the parents will share time with the children on a more or less equal basis. The type of custody is determined by the court's assessment of which arrangement serves the best interests of the child. In making this determination, the court considers a number of factors, including the age of the child, the child's relationship with each parent and the child's ties to school, home and the community.

A second kind of custody is legal custody, that is, which parent will have the legal right to make decisions concerning the child's education, health care, religious activities, sports and travel. Legal custody, like physical custody, can be joint, where both parents participate in making decisions that affect the child's life or exclusive, where only one parent has the right to make such decisions. A court may award sole legal custody to one parent while ordering joint physical custody of the child.

Another important aspect of child custody is the visitation rights of each parent. If the parents are unable to agree on a schedule for sharing time with the children, the court will devise a schedule that allows both parents reasonable time with the children. If a child's safety or well-being is threatened, the court may order supervised visitation of one or both parents.

Custody is a complex issue in many divorces. Anyone with questions may wish to consult an experienced divorce lawyer for advice on these issues.

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