Custody Arrangements in a California Divorce

California Child Custody and Visitation - Summary of Statutes
In Divorce, Custody Should Put Children's Interests First

What's Below

Does custody always go to just one parent?

No. Courts frequently award at least some aspects of custody to both parents, called "joint custody." Joint custody usually takes at least one of three forms:

  • joint physical custody (children spend a relatively equal amount of time with each parent)
  • joint legal custody (medical, educational, religious and other decisions about the children are shared), or
  • both joint legal and joint physical custody.

In every state, courts are willing to order joint legal custody, but about half the states are reluctant to order joint physical custody unless both parents agree to it and they appear to be sufficiently able to communicate and cooperate with each other. In New Mexico and New Hampshire, courts are required to award joint custody except where the children's best interests -- or a parent's health or safety -- would be compromised. Many other states expressly allow their courts to order joint custody even if one parent objects to such an arrangement.

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Can someone other than the parents have physical or legal custody?

Sometimes neither parent can suitably assume custody of the children, perhaps because of a substance abuse or mental health problem. In these situations, others may be granted custody of the children or given a temporary guardianship or foster care arrangement by a court.

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