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Types of California Custody Orders

Types of California Custody Orders

In California, as in most states, custody, visitation, and child support issues are intertwined. This blog will discuss the basics of custody law in California. You may read more about child support at our blog here, and visitation will be explained in more detail in a later blog.


California law recognizes two types of custody: physical and legal. Courts make decisions about these issues based on the best interests of the child. Custody is not granted based on the parents’ ages, lifestyles, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. Also, in California, there is no presumption that custody of young child should be awarded to the mother. Indeed, by law, the sex of the parents may not be considered in making custody decisions. See Cal. Fam. Code § 3040(a)(1). California courts presume that the child’s best interest is supported by joint custody arrangements. See Cal. Fam. Code § 3080.


When most people hear the term “custody,” they usually think of where a child lives. This is called “physical custody.” Physical custody may be held jointly—by both parents—or by one parent, known as “sole” physical custody.


With joint custody, each parent has a “significant period of physical custody.” While a child’s time cannot usually be split in exact halves, the child in a joint custody arrangement has “frequent and continuing contact with both parents.” Cal. Fam. Code § 3004.


On the other hand, when one parent receives sole physical custody of a child, the child lives with and is under the supervision of that parent, and the other parent is given visitation rights.


The second type of custody is called “legal custody.” This term refers to the right and responsibility of parents to make important decisions for their children. Legal custody may be awarded jointly to both parents or to only one parent. 


If the parents have joint legal custody, usually both parents must agree on issues related to the health, education, and welfare of the child. This includes decisions about important aspects of the child’s life, such as the following:

  • Religious decisions, such as whether and where a child will go to church;
  • Medical and dental decisions, such as whether to get braces or undergo psychotherapy; and
  • What school the child(ren) will attend.


When legal custody is given to one parent, it is called “sole legal custody.” If a parent has sole legal custody, that parent has the exclusive right and responsibility to make these decisions for the child.


Often, parents can come to a mutually agreeable decision about child custody. When this occurs, it is certainly better for the child. However, if the parents cannot agree, a judge will make these decisions for them and memorialize them in an order that either parent can later enforce.


Custody issues can be among the most contested between parents. As you might imagine, how these matters are presented to a court can make a significant difference in the support order. You want an attorney with substantial experience in Northern California who will represent you aggressively. Please contact The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.

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