If you’re a parent and going through a divorce, it’s important to understand California custody and visitation laws.

Custody refers to the rights and responsibilities between parents for taking care of their children, while visitation refers to how each parent spends time with the children. And in California, either parent can have sole custody of the children, or the parents can share child custody.

In California, child custody is defined in the Family Code as:

  • Joint Legal Custody (Family Code Section §3003)
    Both parents have the right to make important decisions for the children, such as health care, education, extracurricular activities, travel, and welfare. Joint legal custody is generally awarded unless a parent has shown that he or she isn’t capable of making responsible decisions when it comes to raising the children.
  • Joint Physical Custody (Family Code Section §3004)
    Children take turns living with both parents.
  • Sole Legal Custody (Family Code Section §3006)
    Only one parent has the right and responsibility to decide on the children’s health care, education, extracurricular activities, travel, and welfare.
  • Sole Physical Custody (Family Code Section §3007)
    Children live with one parent most of the time and usually visit the other parent. If one parent is given sole physical custody, the noncustodial parent typically has a right to visitation.

How are child custody and visitation determined?

A court will consider the facts of a case to ensure its decision is in the best interests of the children before approving a custodial plan and a visitation schedule. The court usually approves the custodial plan that both parents agree on, but the court will make a decision if the parents can’t agree. If this happens, the court may consider several factors before making a decision, such as:

  • The age of the children
  • The location of the children’s school(s)
  • The amount and type of contact each parent currently has with the children
  • The children’s living preferences
  • A parent’s history of domestic violence and/or drug or alcohol abuse

If needed, the court may use other methods for determining what’s in the best interest of the children. For instance, the court can appoint Minor’s Counsel, order a 730 evaluation, order focused evaluation, or request an evidentiary hearing. The court also may require therapy for communication, reunification, anger management, and high-stress cases as well as for allowing both parties to negotiate their custodial issues.

What about child support and visitation?

California Legislature has tied child support to a parent’s visitation percentage; wherein sometimes the fight for visitation is in reality a fight for more or less child support. Please note, we do not agree with modifying visitation for the sole purpose of changing one’s child support obligation. However, we do believe that all good parents should have equal access to their children.

Can you change a custodial agreement?

This is referred to as a post-judgment modification, which is a change to the custodial orders after a judgment has been entered. Before the court will modify a custodial arrangement, a substantial change in circumstances must have occurred. Because this is a legal issue, the court will need to review all the facts before making a decision.



photo credit: Are you Joe Montana? No lil’ boy, I’m your father… via photopin (license)