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How California courts determine child custody

by | Jun 29, 2021 | Divorce, Family Law

The determination of child custody is typically the most emotionally charged part of a divorce. If you have an impending divorce, and you have minor children, you are probably wondering if courts in California use a certain formula or process for determining which of you will get custody of the children.

Legal vs. physical custody

California divorce courts distinguish between having legal custody of your children and having physical custody of them. It’s possible to have either sole or joint custody in both categories.

Legal custody is when one or both parents have the power to make decisions for the child concerning important life matters such as where the child will go to school, what medical treatment the child will receive and so forth. If both parents share legal custody, they will have to work together to make these decisions.

Physical custody, on the other hand, is where the child will live. If one parent has sole physical custody, then the other typically has visitation rights – absent unusual circumstances. If both parents have joint physical custody, then the children can divide their time between living with both parents.

How courts determine custody

Courts always put the best interest of the child above all else when determining custody orders. This means that the court will no longer automatically grant custody of the children to the mother, like they used to do. Instead, they will make the decision after considering a number of factors.

The types of things that courts most often weigh are:

  • The age of the child
  • Any special needs that the child might have
  • The resulting stability of the child’s life in either situation
  • The ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs
  • The child’s wishes
  • Factors that would make either parent unfit for custody, such as domestic violence, drug use, etc.

Make sure you do not do anything that the court could construe as manipulating your children to choose you if they are offered the choice. Courts take such efforts very seriously, and they could hurt your chances of receiving custody.

It can be extremely stressful to being the divorce process without knowing which of you will end up with sole custody of your children, or if you will be able to share custody. You can at least rest assured that the court will do everything in its power to make the best possible choice for the benefit of your children.