child custody and divorce in california

California Custody Legal Documents

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 custody legal documents today!

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

How Does a Court Decide Custody Disputes in California?

California judges consider several factors when granting a child custody order. These include:

  • each parent’s relationship with the children
  • which parent has been the primary caretaker in the past
  • each parent’s mental and physical health
  • each child’s mental and physical health
  • evidence of abuse or neglect
  • a detailed understanding of all significant issues relating to the children’s health, safety, education
  • the children’s overall welfare.

For a court to decide custody, the court will evaluate a current status quo custody arrangement and review what the parent’s proposed future custody arrangement holds in comparison to the best interest of the children. California family law also allows teenagers to provide a preference as to which parent they would like to reside with in limited custody disputes.

California Family Code § 3042 states that if a child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation, the court shall consider, and give due weight to, the wishes of the child in making an order granting or modifying custody or visitation….If the child is 14 years of age or older and wishes to address the court regarding custody or visitation, the child shall be permitted to do so, unless the court determines that doing so is not in the child’s best interests. In that case, the court shall state its reasons for that finding on the record.

Parents know their children best. If you choose to have a court decide custody, keep in mind that the judge, who means well, is a stranger. Why would you want a stranger deciding what is in your child’s best interests? Nevertheless, though the judge may be an outsider, he/she will issue a ruling that is in the best interest of your children “in their opinion.” Most judges will make every effort to maintain custody conditions that closely resemble the pre-divorce routine.

How Mediation is Used to Resolve California Custody Disputes

A People’s Choice highly recommends the use of mediation in resolving California child custody disputes. There are many benefits of using mediation to reach a custody agreement. In California, when a Request for Order is filed regarding child custody, the court requires parents to attend mediation prior to the court hearing. Mediation provides parents an opportunity to discuss and resolve issues relating to the best interest of their children.  Mediation is confidential and is conducted by experienced mediators who assist parents by facilitating a cooperative dialogue focusing on the important needs of the children.  Depending on the age of the children, they may also be able to speak to the mediator and share their desires and wishes regarding which parent they would like to live with. It is the responsibility of the court mediator to create a safe, neutral environment in which parents can agree on what is in the best interest of the children. Parents can use a private mediator in lieu of using a court appointed mediator.

Contact A People’s Choice for more information on how to resolve your custody dispute outside of court. If you are having child custody and visitation disputes, choosing the court to decide custody may not turn out the way you think. Remember, when you go to court, you let the judge decide what is in your child’s best interest, which may not really be the best solution.

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