California’s family courts aim to prioritize children’s well-being when making custody determinations. Joint custody arrangements can enable both parents to remain present and engaged in their children’s lives.
Sharing physical and legal custody can be complex, and divorcing parents can benefit from exploring various options for their families.
Joint physical custody
In many states, including California, legal and physical custody of children are separate. Physical custody refers to the living arrangements of children. Parents with primary physical custody are responsible for housing and caring for their children most of the time. Noncustodial parents often receive visitation rights. Visitation can be flexible or arranged according to a schedule.
In joint physical custody arrangements, children split their time and reside with both parents. Because of educational and work responsibilities, not all families with joint custody arrangements equally divide time between parental households.
Sharing legal custody
Even when parents do not have primary physical custody, they can remain involved with their children by sharing legal custody. Parents with joint legal custody must work together when making decisions that affect their children’s schooling, religious upbringing and medical care. In many cases, California family courts strive to maintain joint legal custody and maintain family connections. However, sometimes one parent is unfit, mentally unwell or has a history of domestic abuse, and a judge may award sole legal custody to the other parent.
When it is in the best interest of children, California courts award joint custody. Divorcing parents should understand how legal and physical custody order work to determine the appropriate arrangements for their families.