Going through a divorce or separation can be a challenging time for both you and young children. In most states, if you choose to involve the court in your child custody decisions, it does its best to ensure the best interests of the children remain at the forefront.

Understanding custody laws in California is important to ensure you protect your rights in court and that you can maintain a healthy relationship with each child.

Types of custody

There are two types of custody to be aware of that will directly affect you and your children’s lives:

  • Legal custody: Whether the court decides it should split legal custody equally (joint) or grants sole custody to one parent, this gives you the right to make important decisions for your children, including things such as health care, education, religion, travel and residence.
  • Physical custody: This determines who your children will live with, and the court can also split this in half or will grant it to one parent for the majority of the time and give the other parent visitation rights.

While in some cases the court decides that giving one parent sole physical custody will better maintain stability, it is your job to prove otherwise if you would like joint physical custody. As well, if you feel that you and your ex should both make major life decisions for the children, you will have to work together with your ex, so you do not end up back in court.

The courts will consider a variety of factors to determine what is best for children, including their age, health, emotional ties, history of family or substance abuse, your ability to take care of them and how involved they are in their community or school. You might have to present evidence to support your parental rights.

Court order

Many parents make child custody agreements between each other rather than going through the court system. While this can work up to a point, if the relationship with your ex begins to change or he or she decides to move out of state with your children, it might become necessary to involve the court so that the custody order is legally enforceable.