What does Child Custody involve?

The most difficult decision for two people who have a child together is how much time and when the child will spend living with each of the parents. Responsibilities will most likely be shared and divided.

Frequent and continued contact with both parents is the general policy in the State of California for divorced or separated parents. See California Family Code, Section 3020.

This article give an overview of visitation and child custody. A parenting plan can be very helpful and will help parents understand the child custody legal process.

Either parent or another adult may request orders from the court for child custody and visitation rights.

The general guide utilized by the courts is the identification of what is best for the child. The age, personality, health, welfare and safety is considered in the decision making process as well as the nature of the relationships with each parent that the child has. Whether there is substance or alcohol abuse, or abuse by any parent or other adult seeking custody is also taken into consideration. There are different types of custody:

  • Physical Custody, sole or joint
  • Legal Custody, sole or joint

Physical custody refers to the person that the child will live with most of the time, and legal custody refers to the responsibility and right to make decisions regarding the welfare, health and education of the child.

Sole refers to one parent having primary custody, either physical (with the option for the other parent to have visitation rights) or legal (one parent can make decisions without permission of the other parent).

There are also special rules that may apply to parents in the military or of Native American heritage.

Child custody may be requested within the following types of cases:

  • Divorce
  • Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Child
  • Parentage Case
  • Declaration of Paternity
  • Domestic Violence Restraining Order
  • Department of Child Support Services Enforcement Case

If possible, both parents need to create a parenting plan (written plan) that lays out how they will share and divide their physical and legal custody responsibilities. Parenting plans may be unique to the parents and children, but if they agree on the terms of sharing and dividing the care of the child or children, the court will approve their plan.

The Judicial Council has forms to aid in making parenting plans that follow the California law guideline regarding what is in the best interests of the child or children. These forms include:

  • Form FL-341 – Child Custody and Visitation Order
  • Form FL-341(A) – Supervised Visitation Order
  • Form FL-341(B) – Child Abduction Prevention Orders Attachment
  • Form FL-341(C) – Children’s Holiday Schedule Attachment
  • Form FL-341(D) – Additional Provisions – Physical Custody Attachment
  • Form FL-341(E) – Joint Legal Custody Attachment