Child Custody in California
There are two types of custody parents need to be aware of, legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody is the ability to make decisions on behalf of the child. Physical custody is the time the child spends with a parent. The percentage of time spent with the parent is used to help calculate child support.
A parent can request sole legal or sole physical custody; however, this must have extenuating circumstances to justify such a request.
Court orders are necessary to help maintain peace between the parent and in the family. Under Family Code § 3010: “Without court orders saying otherwise, both legal parents are equally entitled to custody of their child.” That means both parents have access to the child(ren) until and order is made.
A request for a custody order can be made at any time. Even before a divorce is filed, a parent can request a custody order even if there is only physical separation between the parents. Unwed parents commonly request custody orders in conjunction with support orders. A parent can request a modification of child custody orders anytime there is a change in circumstances.
When custody disputes arise, the court will look to Family Code § 3011 and use the “Best Interest of the Child” standard when making its decision.
In San Diego County, the court will send parents to Family Court Services to help mediate a custody plan prior to the court hearing. This meeting is very important, and a parent should not attend this meeting unprepared.
If parents can agree on a custody schedule, hiring a lawyer to draft this agreement without a court hearing is beneficial to both parties, not only financially, but also emotionally.
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