Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody in California: What You Need to Know

Divorce certificate

When parents in California decide to separate or divorce, family law courts ask the parents to create a parenting time as well as a visitation plan for their children. However, parents can and should make an effort to negotiate this plan themselves before going to court over child custody issues.

If the parents fail to make the custody decision by themselves, they’ll be asked to attend mediation. During the mediation sessions, a mediator will help the parents communicate and enable them to work together to develop a plan for sharing time with their kids.

If the mediation fails, then litigation in court will settle the child custody issue. Since the court’s decision is imperative to the life-altering issue of child custody, you must understand the difference between legal and physical custody in California.

Child Custody: Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

In divorce cases, couples usually can agree on other details, but often neither parent wants to yield on the issue of child custody. Of course, there are also instances where both parents amicably decide which parent should get custody.

As far as statistics regarding living with either one parent are concerned, the Census Bureau reports some interesting findings. For instance, the percentage of children living with their father only has increased from 1% to 4.5% between 1968 to 2020.

However, the percentage of children living with their mother only increased from 11% to 21% in the same period. Another report from the Census Bureau indicates that only half of all custodial parents had a legal or informal child support agreement in place (49.4% to be exact).

Divorce is a painful time for the children

But people often don’t know what legal custody and physical custody are and how they relate to child custody. Simply put, child custody refers to the two distinct and separate legal rights of a parent.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is defined as a parent’s right and authority to make decisions regarding critical aspects of their child’s life. These decisions can relate to their housing, medical and dental treatments, education, and religious choices. Essentially, legal custody gives parents the power to make essential decisions about their children’s lives.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is about the parent’s right to spend time with their children. Children typically live with parents who have physical custody. Shared physical custody means that the parents will split the children’s time between them.

How Legal and Physical Custody Works in California

Family courts in California prefer to give joint legal and physical custody to the parents wherever possible. As far as joint legal custody is concerned, both parents will have to discuss and negotiate on the decisions.

However, one parent can take the sole legal custody by demonstrating that the other is unfit to make decisions. Similarly, steps can be taken for full physical custody if the other parent is not present in the lives of the children.

Marquez Law Offices Offers Family Law Attorneys in Chico, CA

If you’re going through a divorce, the divorce attorneys at Marquez Law Offices specialize in family law and can help you protect the interests of your children. Contact us now to learn more about how our child custody lawyers in Chico, CA, can help you.


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