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What is the Difference Between Physical Custody and Legal Custody in CA?

When two parents of a child get a divorce in California, one of the most important – and often complicated – aspects of the divorce is the determination of the custody of the child. What many people who are unfamiliar with the divorce do not understand, however, is that a court will issue orders relating to both the physical custody and the legal custody of the child. The difference between these two concepts and how courts make these determinations are discussed below.

Physical Custody in California

Physical custody is what many people often think of when they hear the word custody: the parent with whom the child will live and receive care from. A California court can award sole physical custody to one parent or the other, or it may award joint physical custody to both parents. In a joint physical custody situation, there will usually be a schedule dictating what days of the week the child will live with each parent. A joint physical custody arrangement does not have to be 50/50 with regard to time spent with each parent.

Furthermore, it should be noted that a parent with joint physical custody may still be required to pay child support to the other parent with joint physical custody, especially where the first parent makes more income and the second parent is spending more time with the child.

Legal Custody in California

Legal custody, on the other hand, is the right to make important decisions on the child’s behalf, such as:

  • Where the child will go to school
  • What activities the child will participate in
  • Where the child can travel to (e.g. vacations and school trips)
  • What medical care the child will receive
  • The child’s religious upbringing

Legal custody can also be awarded solely to one parent or jointly to both parents. If it is awarded jointly, the parents will have to work together to make important decisions on the child’s behalf. Note that legal custody can be awarded jointly even where only one parent has physical custody.

How Physical and Legal Custody are Determined in CA

Ideally, the parents will work together through the divorce process with the assistance of their attorneys to work out a mutually beneficial custody agreement that serves the child’s needs, and the court will approve this. If they are unable to do so, however, the court will issue its own orders on legal and physical custody, based on the best interests of the child, considering such factors as:

  • The child’s age
  • The relationship of the child’s parents and any other persons who may significantly affect the child’s welfare
  • The preference of the child (if the child is old enough to express this)
  • The current situation of the child
  • The child’s adjustment to current geographical and schooling situation
  • The stability of the proposed custody arrangement
  • The capacity of the parents to provide adequate childcare, love and support
  • History of domestic violence
  • Other meaningful factors asserted by the parties

Parents are encouraged to work with an experienced family law attorney who can evaluate potential strategies for custody arrangements, and, if need be, present compelling arguments to the court regarding custody.

Get Help in Your Custody Matter

The Pasadena family law attorneys at Kearney | Baker work with clients across Southern California in helping them reach the best possible results for parents and children alike. For help with any family law matter you are facing, please contact the experienced, compassionate family law attorneys at Kearney Baker today at 626-768-2945.

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