California custody laws may seem complex. With the help of a legal document preparer, you can file the required forms in a timely manner and begin the process of obtaining legal custody of your children. Read on to learn more about California custody laws and how we can help you.

California Child Custody Options

Under California custody laws, parents can either have joint or sole physical or legal custody of their children. Custody is typically established through a divorce proceeding or a paternity case. The different custody options are discussed below:

Joint Custody in California

Joint custody, also called shared custody, allow parents to share the decision-making responsibilities of their children. Joint custody can either be joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or joint legal and physical custody. Children typically split weeks between their parents house under a joint custody order.

Sole Custody in California

Sole custody allows one parent to make decisions about their child’s well-being. A parent may have sole physical and legal custody of their child. This means that the non-custodial parent will not be allowed to have his/her children live with him/her or make decisions about his/her child’s education, safety, and general welfare.

Physical Custody vs Legal Custody

Physical custody can be joint or sole. Physical custody allows a parent to have their child live with him/her. Some parents may opt to have joint physical custody in which their children can live with them on a shared basis (ex – weekends, weekday nights, summers, holidays). Sole physical custody means that one parent will not be allowed to have his/her child live with him/her absent a court order. Courts will typically award sole physical custody to a parent if the non-custodial parent is deemed to be unfit because he/she may suffer from alcohol or drug dependency, be an abusive parent, or neglect the children.  

Legal custody allows one parent to make decisions about the health, safety, education, and welfare of his/her children. Legal custody can be either joint or sole. Sole legal custody means that one parent has the legal right to make decisions about where his/her child will attend school, the medical treatment he/she will receive, and appoint the child’s legal guardian.

Primary Physical Custody vs Sole Custody

There are many different words that can be used to describe the type of custody arrangement two parents may agree upon in a California divorce. We have reviewed legal custody and physical custody, but often a marital settlement agreement will state that the parties have joint legal custody with one party being the primary custodial parent. What exactly does this mean and how does it differ from sole physical custody?

The term primary physical custody is not specifically described in California statutes, but it is often used in marital settlement agreements. The term primary physical custody simply means that one parent will be more responsible for the care of the child or children than the other parent. In joint physical custodial arrangements, the child or children will spend more time with the parent who has primary physical custody. Using the terms “joint legal custody with sole custody to…” sounds much more divisive than saying “joint physical custody with

[parent] as the primary custodial parent.” Often this better choice of words will have a profound impact on how the non-custodial parent views their parenting rights and their willingness to sign a marital settlement agreement.

How is sole physical custody different from primary physical custody? When a parent has sole physical custody, it means that the child or children lives with only one parent and the other parent has specified visitation rights. Primary physical custody is typically used when a couple establishes a true “shared physical custody” schedule, rather than with a sole physical custody order. The shared physical custody schedule does not necessarily mean 50/50 shared, and could be any percentage the parties agree to.

Jurisdiction Laws for California Custody

A California court must have jurisdiction to grant a custody order. A California court will have jurisdiction over the child custody matter if it is “the home state” of the child on the date the custody proceeding is commenced or was the home state of the child within 6 months before the custody petition being filed. This means the parent requesting the custody order must be able to prove that California presently is “the home state” of the child on the date the proceeding commenced (petition filed), or California was “the home state” of the child within the past  six months prior to the commencement of the proceeding. The “home state” is defined as the state that the child lived in with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months prior to the filing of the the custody proceeding.

California Custody Forms

The following forms can be used to file a petition for custody and support of minor children in California:

  1. Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children – Form FL-260
  2. Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act – Form FL-105
  3. Child Custody and Visitation Attachment – Form FL-311

Benefits of Using A Non-Attorney to File For Custody

There are several benefits of using a non-attorney to file for custody in California.  At A People’s Choice, we are well-versed in California custody procedures and forms. We can prepare the required forms you need to file a petition for custody and file them with your local court.  If you are looking to obtain child custody, contact us at 800-747-2780 to find out how we can help!

Get help with your California legal documents today!

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