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The basics of child custody

At the end of a relationship or divorce, child custody and visitation disputes may arise. California courts may have to resolve several issues when awarding custody.

Courts address two parts of custody. Physical custody relates to the physical care and supervision of a child under 18-years-old, or which parent lives with the child daily. Legal custody governs the right to make important decisions for the child on matters such as education, health care or religion.

Joint custody allows both parents to share custody. California, unlike other states, does not necessarily favor this type of custody.

Joint legal custody grants both parents with equal rights to make major decisions on issues like education, religion, extracurricular activities and where the child will live. Courts may grant one parent with the sole power to make specific decisions, while also giving both parents equal rights and responsibilities over other matters.

Courts may also grant joint physical custody where both parents have frequent and substantial contact with the child. Each parent has more than basic visitation rights because the child spends blocks of time with each parent who share the right to raise the child in their homes.

Under sole legal custody, only one parent makes major decisions concerning the child and does not have to discuss these issues with the other parent. Sole physical custody gives one parent responsibility for the care and supervision of the child while the non-custodial parent usually has visitation rights.

Some parents may not file for custody orders to avoid court involvement. Or, parents may enter an effective informal agreement. Parents may also fear filing for custody because they worry that it will provoke the other parent into fighting for more custody or visitation rights. However, avoiding this issue may not always be the best course of action.

With regards to child support, a court can award it even without a custody order. A custody order, however, does not necessarily lead to child support. Custody orders may allow parents to make important decisions for the child or have the child live with them. An attorney can assist a parent with deciding these issues, negotiating an agreement or pursuing an order in court.

Source: WomensLaw.org, "Know the laws: California-Custody," Accessed April 11, 2017

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