For couples with children, child custody is often the most contentious aspect of a divorce. While parents want what is in their child’s best interests, their judgment often gets clouded by the range of emotions they are dealing with during the divorce. As a result, decisions regarding child custody may suffer. When parents are unable to make a decision as to these matters, the court steps in and makes it for them, based on the court’s determination of the child’s best interests. Knowing and understanding the terms the courts will most likely use is very helpful in this situation.

Child custody in California refers to the rights and responsibilities allotted between parents with regards to making decisions for the children. Visitation on the other hand refers to how each parent will manage their time with their children. Child custody can be of two types—physical or legal. Legal custody determines who will make important decisions for the children, including those related to education and healthcare. Physical custody on the other hand refers to who the children live with.

Legal custody can be joint or sole. As the term implies, joint custody is when both parents share the right to make decisions about child care, religious activities, travel, residence, and summer plans, in addition to any other important decisions. Courts generally prefer awarding joint legal custody, so both parents have an equal say in their children’s upbringing. If this is not possible, then courts award sole custody. This means only one parent has the right to make these decisions.

Similarly, physical custody can be joint or sole. Joint does not mean that children are spending an equal amount of time with their parents—often times this is not possible. When one parent has the children for slightly longer, he or she is considered the primary custodial parent. The other parent may get visitation rights, which can be according to a schedule or open-ended, if parents can plan it out.

A lot of factors go into creating a child custody award and parents may be called upon to prove one aspect or another. It is also possible that parents want to challenge the court’s order. To understand one’s options when it comes to working out child custody arrangements, it might be beneficial to consult an experienced order.