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The basics of child custody in California

When a parent gets divorced, often their first instinct is to wonder, “What about the children?” One of the most important parts of the divorce process is figuring out a child custody arrangement, which in California is known as a parenting plan.

A good parenting plan will continue to provide stability, safety and love in your children’s lives, even though you and your co-parent are no longer together. A poorly thought-out plan can not only deprive you of your parental rights; it can also hamper the kids’ physical, emotional and educational development.

Two types of child custody for Roseville parents

Your parenting plan must deal with two types of child custody: physical and legal. Physical custody is about where the children will live. You and your co-parent might share custody, or one of you will have sole custody and the other will receive regular visitation time but not live with the kids part-time. Legal custody refers to your right as a parent to participate in key child-rearing decisions, like the kids’ schooling, medical care and religious upbringing. Usually, divorced parents share legal custody even when one parent has sole physical custody unless the other parent is unfit or has abandoned the children.

Determining what the children need out of a parenting plan

In California, the most important factor in all child custody matters is the children’s best interests. Their well-being matters the most, above the parent’s needs or desires. State law directs family court judges to consider several factors to determine a child’s best interests, including:

  • Their age
  • Their health
  • Their emotional ties to each of their parents
  • Their ties to their school, current home and community
  • Whether both parents are fit to raise children
  • Any history of domestic violence or substance abuse among the parents

Visitation for the parent who has custody less than half the time can be tailored to fit the children’s best interests as well as the parents’. Parents can follow a set schedule or agree to an open-ended, ad hoc plan where the parents agree on the schedule from month to month or week to week. In cases where a parent is abusive or unfit, the family court might order supervised visitation. This means that the parent’s time with the kids is monitored by someone else, typically the other parent, another family member, or a professional agency.

Most divorcing parents negotiate their parenting plan out of court, then submit it to the judge for approval. Doing that successfully means working with an experienced and dedicated family law attorney.