How do California courts decide on custody and visitation?

On Behalf of | Sep 27, 2023 | Custody |

Going through a divorce or separation becomes even more complicated when there are children involved. Parents who are used to having their children around all the time must now adjust to splitting time with their children.

The best interest of the child standard

California courts decide child custody based on the “best interest of the child” standard, meaning if you and your co-parent cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the court will issue and order that it believes is best for your child.

A court generally assumes that a shared custody schedule is in a child’s best interest, because it allows the child the chance to develop an equally meaningful relationship with each parent.

Legal and physical custody

Legal custody means who makes major decisions for your child, such as decisions based on education, healthcare or religion. Physical custody means who your child lives with and when.

Courts start with the assumption that joint legal and shared physical custody are best, meaning you and your co-parent share decision making and your child lives with each of you an equal amount of time.

You may truly believe that your child is better off spending more time with you, and there are several factors a court examines to decide if this is a better solution.

Factors that influence a court’s decision

Certain factors have a strong negative impact on the court’s decision. Some examples are:

  • any history of abuse by a parent;
  • the quality of the parent-child relationship; and
  • who the primary caregiver was before divorce or separation.

A court will also evaluate your level of cooperation when it comes to allowing your child to maintain a relationship with their co-parent. Signs that you are only fighting for full or primary custody out of a sense of revenge or because you are bitter over the relationship ending can harm your chance of receiving the custody you want.

Each parent’s general level of fitness when it comes to caring for a child is another important factor. Any untreated mental health issues or evidence of a drug or alcohol problem could be reasons that shared custody is not in your child’s best interest.

Parenting time orders

California courts generally issue for types of parenting time orders based on a number of factors:

  • A parenting plan with a schedule is the first type. In this, parents have set dates and times to spend with the child.
  • A reasonable plan is another type. This is usually successful when the parents, though separated, get along well.
  • A supervised plan is when a child and a parent are yet to be familiar with each other or if there is any concern about the child’s safety.

These are just some examples of factors a court uses to decide custody. Everyone’s situation is different, so comparing these factors to yours can help you form a realistic idea of what to expect.