Child Custody Laws in California: What You Need to Know

Child Custody Laws in California - Stockton Family Law Attorney


Child custody laws in Stockton (and elsewhere in California) are in place to protect the best interests of the children—but they can be a bit confusing. For this reason, many people choose to work with a Stockton family law attorney who understands how our custody laws will impact their families.

Child Custody Laws in California: Types of Custody

There are two types of child custody in California: Legal and physical. Each type of custody requires parents to fill different roles, but no matter who has either type of custody, the state requires both parents to contribute equally to their children’s well-being. Many parents share both types of custody, but there are cases in which one parent is awarded sole legal or sole physical custody of the children in divorce or when unmarried parents split up.

Legal Custody Laws in California

The term legal custody refers to the obligation of one or both parents to make important decisions for the children. Those decisions can include healthcare, education, and general welfare, as well as religious upbringing and a handful of other big issues.

If parents share legal custody, they both have the right to make decisions about their children’s lives. However, one parent can still make a decision alone.

Physical Custody Laws in California

The term physical custody refers to the obligation of one or both parents to provide a place for their children to live. A large majority of parents share physical custody—when this happens, it’s called joint physical custody—but that doesn’t mean that kids live with one parent half the time and with the other parent the other half of the time.

In some cases, one parent is awarded sole or primary custody. In these cases, the children live with one parent most of the time but still typically visit the other parent.

How Do California’s Child Custody Laws Determine Each Parent’s Rights?

California’s child custody laws require the courts to consider several factors when a judge is awarding custody. Naturally, both parents have the right to state their preferences in court and explain why they want legal or physical custody.

The court will consider:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s health
  • The emotional ties that exist between each parent and the child
  • Whether the parents have the ability to care for the child
  • Whether there’s any history of violence or substance abuse among the parents
  • The child’s ties to his or her home, school, and community

Do California Courts Automatically Give Custody to the Mother?

It’s a common myth that the courts “automatically” award custody to the mother. Our child custody laws are very clear that the courts have to consider several factors, and, above all, put the child’s best interests first.

What if You and Your Spouse Agree on Child Custody?

Lots of couples agree on child custody and come up with their own visitation schedules. As long as the court sees that the agreement is fair to the children, and as long as you both understand what you’re committing to, parental agreements are usually fine.

It’s important to remember, though, that even if you and your spouse agree on a custody and visitation agreement, it’s not legally enforceable unless you’ve turned it in to the judge and he or she has turned it into a court order.

What if You and Your Spouse Don’t Agree on Child Custody?

If you and your spouse can’t agree on a child custody arrangement, the courts will decide for you. Your attorney will probably suggest that you try mediation or compromise so that you and your soon-to-be ex can reach an agreement on your own for three reasons:

  • It’s easier on your children (and you)
  • Fighting over custody in court can become expensive quickly
  • You may not like the final decision the judge makes

Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Child Custody Laws in Stockton?

We understand that child custody is one of the most difficult parts of divorce, and we’re here to help you make the best decisions—not only for your kids, but for yourself.

Call us at 209-910-9865 today. Tell us about your situation so we can begin developing a strategy that gets you and your children the best possible outcome.