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

California Child Custody Options

Under California custody laws, parents may either have joint or sole physical or legal custody of their children. Custody is typically established through a divorce proceeding or a paternity case. 

Joint Custody in California

Joint custody, also called shared custody, allows parents to share decision-making responsibilities for the protection and well-being of their children. It can be specified as:

  • joint legal custody;
  • joint physical custody; or
  • joint legal and physical custody.

Typically, under a joint custody order, children split weeks between their parents’ houses.

Sole Custody in California

Sole custody allows one parent to make decisions about their child’s well-being.

Further, a parent may have sole physical and legal custody of their child. This means that the children may not live with the non-custodial parent, nor may that parent make decisions about the child’s education, safety, or general welfare.

Physical Custody in California

Physical custody allows a child to live with their parent, and may be joint or sole.

For example, in joint physical custody, children live with their parents on a shared basis, such as weekends, weekday nights, summers, and/or holidays.

On the other hand, in sole physical custody, a child may not live with one one parent absent a court order. Typically, courts will award sole physical custody to a parent if they deem the non-custodial parent unfit because they suffer from alcohol or drug dependency, or are abusive or neglect the children.  

Legal Custody in California

Contrarily, legal custody allows one parent to make decisions about the health, safety, education, and welfare of their children. However, similarly to physical custody, legal custody may be either joint or sole.

Sole legal custody appoints one parent the legal right to make decisions about where their child attends school and what medical treatment they receive. Additionally, the parent may appoint the child’s legal guardian.

Primary Physical Custody in California

Oftentimes, a marital settlement agreement will give parties joint legal custody of children. Usually, one party is the primary custodial parent in such situations.

California statutes do not specifically define the term primary physical custody. However, marital settlement agreements often mention it. Put simply, primary physical custody means that one parent is more responsible than the other for the care of the child or children.

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.

Primary Physical Custody vs. Sole Custody

How is sole physical custody different from primary physical custody?

When a parent has sole physical custody, the child or children live with only one parent while the other parent has specified visitation rights. On the other hand, primary physical custody establishes a true “shared physical custody” schedule. However, this shared physical custody schedule does not necessarily mean 50/50 share; it could be any percentage the parties agree to.

Jurisdiction Laws for California Custody

A California court must have jurisdiction to grant a custody order. Furthermore, the court will have jurisdiction over a child custody matter if: 

  • it is the child’s home state on the date the custody proceeding is commenced; or
  • it was the home state of the child at least 6 months before the custody petition was filed.

Keep in mind that the “home state” is defined as the state in which the child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent.

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. Plus, we can prepare the required forms to file a petition for custody and file them with your local court. If you are looking to obtain child custody in California, contact us at 800-747-2780 to find out how we can help!

Get help with your California legal documents today!

A People’s Choice can save you hundreds of dollars by preparing your legal documents instead of an expensive attorney!


We would love to know your thoughts on this article. Connect with us over on Google+ or Twitter