If you are going through a divorce in California and you have children, you may be wondering how a judge will make custody decisions. Unlike years ago, when the mom usually received primary custody, the courts now look at what is best for each child.
One thing to understand is that there are two types of child custody. Physical refers to where the child will live and with whom, and legal refers to who will make major decisions regarding education, medical care and religion. If a judge finds that both parents are equally suited to care for the child, he or she may grant joint physical and legal custody.
When making custody decisions, the courts consider a variety of factors that deal with the best interests of the child. One is the type of relationship the child has with each parent. Another factor is the financial, physical and emotional abilities each parent has to take care of the child. Activities and interests vary with age, so the judge takes these into consideration as well. Other factors include the following:
- Child’s health
- Child’s bonds with friends, home, school and community
- Family’s history of substance abuse or violence
The courts will also typically consider which parent will be more willing to encourage regular visits with the other parent as well as with extended family such as grandparents. A child’s wishes may be a factor once the child reaches a certain age and maturity level.
Once a judge has made a decision regarding which parent gets primary custody, the next step is to decide visitation for the other parent. A detailed parenting plan helps set up a schedule and avoids stress and confusion for both the child and parents. If a child’s safety is in question, or the child needs time to feel comfortable with the parent, the courts may require supervised visitation for a period of time.