There are two types of child custody in California: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to which parent will make important decisions about a child's wellbeing, such as choosing his or her residence, health care provider, school, child care provider, and religion. Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with.
Both legal and physical custody can be joint or sole. Joint legal custody allows parents to share the rights and responsibilities of making important decisions about their children. Joint physical custody means that children live with both parents, although often it is too difficult to divide time in an exact 50/50 split, so children may live more with one parent than the other. If a parent has the children more than half the time, he or she may be considered the primary custodial parent. Sole custody usually means that the children live with one parent most of the time, but visit the other parent. In some cases, the court will award joint legal custody but not joint physical custody.
California courts focus on the best interests of the children when determining child custody and visitation. The best interests of the children may require a complex analysis of issues that are very emotional for all family members. Generally, the court tries to maintain the "status quo,” or the conditions that existed before the divorce.
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