Legal separation, divorce or simply the break-up of a relationship can have devastating affects on a child. A child naturally loves both their mother and father and needs and deserves the love and support of each parent (unless of course maintaining such relationships would cause harm to the child). Therefore, parents should always keep in mind THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD at all times. Disputes between fighting adults oftentimes involve child custody. Here are the basics to keep in mind regarding California child custody laws.

In California and the majority of other states there are four legal forms of child custody rights: (1) joint legal custody, (2) sole legal custody, (3) joint physical custody and (5) sole physical custody.

In most cases, parents automatically have Joint Legal Custody of their minor children, whether the parents live together or separately. Joint legal custody means that the parents share the right and responsibility to make important decisions about their children’s health, education and welfare. Such decisions might include, for example, where the child attends school or what extracurricular activities the child will be involved in. Many parents, especially fathers, are unaware that both parents have equal custodial rights to their children. This right may be altered based on several factors, for example, if a father fails to visit a child that does not live with him, father child custody rights may be altered as a consequence. Custody laws favor the parent who is constant in a child’s life.

Sole Legal Custody means that one parent has the right to make decisions related to the health, education and welfare of the children.

Joint Physical Custody means that the child lives with each parent on a regular basis. This does not mean, however, that the children must spend equal amounts of time with each parent.

Sole Physical Custody means the child lives with one parent and the other parent has visitation rights with the child.

When parents are unable to agree on custody or visitation, a judge makes the decision for the parents. There are several steps to finalizing a custody plan, but custody and visitation will be decided on a temporary basis if immediate problems arise.

Before any court hearing involving child custody rights or visitation, both parents are required to meet with a trained counselor hired by the court. The counselor will try to help parents agree on a custody and parenting plan and discuss child custody laws. These sessions are arranged through Conciliation Court or mediation offices, and are held in private offices located in the courthouse in your county.

The judge may give custody to one or both parents, or, in some cases, to another adult based on the best interests of the child. Considerations include the child’s health, safety and welfare, as well as any history of abuse by one parent. For custody to be awarded to someone other than a parent, however, the judge would have to believe that giving custody of child to either parent would be detrimental or harmful to the child. Thus, when it comes to custody of children, never forget the BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD, because the judge won’t forget!

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