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What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

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Anyone facing a divorce involving children can expect that custody and visitation determinations are likely to become a significant topic of discussion, negotiation, and where the parties cannot agree, disputes to be resolved by the court. California’s Family Code provides guidance on the specific types of custody arrangements available in a divorce or other situation involving separate parents. Learn below about the different types of child custody available in California, and reach out to a compassionate Claremont child custody lawyer if you need help with a California family law matter in Los Angeles or the San Gabriel Valley.

Legal custody and physical custody

California generally divides custody determinations into two buckets: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody addresses which parent or parents have the right to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, including education, religion, and medical decisions. Physical custody concerns where the child will physically reside. Each form of custody can be sole or joint, and “joint custody” broadly means joint physical custody and joint legal custody. Courts typically prefer to grant some form of joint custody, all things being equal.

Legal custody: Sole vs. Joint

Legal custody orders come in one of two forms: sole legal custody and joint legal custody. The California Family Code lays out the differences between the two arrangements. If one party retains sole legal custody, then that parent has the “right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child.” The custodial parent will thus have sole discretion concerning important factors in the child’s upbringing and sole responsibility for ensuring the child’s welfare.

Under joint legal custody, “both parents shall share the right and responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child.” The parties will each have the right to make crucial decisions concerning the child’s upbringing, and they will have to figure out how to resolve disputes over significant decisions such as the child’s religious experience.

Physical custody: Sole/Primary vs. Joint

Physical custody orders determine with which parent the child will reside. In California, there are generally two types of physical custody: sole custody and joint custody. Under the Family Code, a primary or sole physical custody arrangement means that “the child will reside with and be under the supervision of one parent, subject to the power of the court to order visitation.” The child will live with the “custodial’ parent, which can be either parent. The noncustodial parent will typically be granted visitation rights.

Joint physical custody, on the other hand, is an arrangement under which “each parent shall have significant periods of physical custody.” The goal of joint custody is to ensure that the child will have regular and continuing contact with both parents. The child will split time residing with each parent. Joint custody does not necessarily mean equal time will be spent at both residences, given obligations such as school and work. Joint custody can involve, for example, one parent having custody during the week while the other takes custody over the weekend, alternating weeks, or any other arrangement that the parties and the court agree upon.

Call a dedicated and detail-oriented child custody attorney for help with child custody, divorce, or any other family law matter in the San Gabriel Valley or Los Angeles County by contacting the Claremont offices of Blasser Law at 877-927-2181.

Blasser Law

445 West Foothill Blvd., Suite 108
Claremont, CA 91711




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