When a California couple with minor children decide to end their marriage, one of their first concerns is who will have custody of the children. Many couples are able to resolve this issue without turning to the court, but some couples need the judge to help them out. In such cases, child custody becomes more complicated than the simple question of "Who gets the kids?" A review of common child custody questions can be useful to someone about to commence divorce proceedings.
California law recognizes two kinds of child custody:
- Legal custody in which one or both parents will have the right to make important decisions for the child on issues such as education, health care, general welfare and the like;
- Physical custody which means with which parent or parents the child will reside.
Both kinds of custody can be either sole or joint. In sole custody arrangements, custody will be given to one parent or the other. In joint custody arrangements, custody will be split between the parents. Courts often order joint legal custody but designate only one parent with whom the children will spend the bulk of their time. Non-custodial parents are usually given significant visitation time with the children.
In making these decisions, the court must ensure that the best interests of the child are protected. In determining what kind of order serves the best interests of the child, the court must consider the age and health of the child, the emotional ties between the child and each parent, the ability of each parent to care for the child, whether the family has had incidents of violence and the child's connections to school, home and community. The best interests of the child is a fluid standard that often produces different results in different cases. An experienced divorce attorney can provide helpful advice on how the standard might be applied in a specific case.