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

On the surface, divorce appears more straightforward in California than in most other states. California is one of just a few states that follow community property laws, which means that the court divides the couple’s marital property evenly in half, unlike in equitable distribution states, where each spouse must argue for his or her own idea of the fairest way to divide the couple’s assets. When it comes to child custody, however, nothing is simple. You must have known that babies change all the rules as soon as your first child was born. Child custody decisions are always case-by-case, and each family is unique. More importantly, the guiding principle is the child’s best interests, which the court determines according to various factors. Most of the time, the court does not have to decide, however, because the parents, with the help of their attorneys, can finalize a parenting plan during mediation. A Whittier child custody lawyer can help you resolve disputes with your ex-spouse over legal and physical custody of your children.

Types of Child Custody in California Law

When clients meet with divorce lawyers for the first time and ask some version of the question, “Will I get custody of my children?” the lawyer’s answer will likely include the phrases “parenting time” and “time-sharing” much more frequently than the word “custody.” Once you start looking at the parenting plan template, however, it talks about legal and physical custody.  These types of custody have different meanings. Legal custody means decision-making power.  For example, on the parenting plan, you must decide which parent has the final decision about children’s extracurricular activities. Physical custody means that the children reside with you.  For example, the parenting plan might say that the mother has physical custody of the children every week from Sunday evening until Friday afternoon.

Most of the Time, Legal and Physical Custody Belong to Both Parents

Cases, where one parent gets 100% of the legal custody or 100% of the physical custody of a minor child, are exceedingly rare. Rather, each parent gets a certain number of days of parenting time per year. The parenting plan also indicates which parent is with the children on which holiday; in some families, the parents alternate years for major holidays. Likewise, you can indicate on the parenting plan that you and your ex must mutually agree about your children’s education and non-emergency medical care, even if it means getting the courts involved if you reach an impasse. Each parent’s respective share of physical custody affects the child support order, but legal custody does not.

Contact the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum About Child Custody Disputes

A family law attorney can help you resolve disputes with your ex-spouse about parenting time for your minor children or about major decisions regarding their upbringing. Contact the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates APLC in Whittier, California, to set up a consultation.