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Family Law 101: Child Custody and Visitation

When determining child custody, two types of custody are addressed—legal custody and physical custody (Fam. Code §3003-3007). The former refers to the ability to make decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the child. It is most often shared by both parties. The latter concerns the living arrangements of a child. It may vary. Joint physical custody occurs when a child spends a substantial amount of time at the home of each parent. 

California upholds a policy of frequent and continuing contact between parents and children except when it comes into conflict with the health and safety of the child (Fam. Code §3020[b]). It is rare for a parent seeking visitation to be denied all contact. Visitation may be scheduled and supervised, and when the child is deemed to be “of sufficient age and capacity to reason,” his/her wishes may also be taken into account (Fam. Code §3042).

Parents may come to an agreement regarding custody and visitation, or the court will make the decision for them. Factors affecting the determination of child custody and visitation adhere to the Best Interest Standard (Fam. Code §3020, §3040, §3011). Some of the factors the court will consider are the following:

-Health, safety, and welfare of the child

(e.g. which parent can provide a wholesome, stable living environment; which parent will maintain continuing contact with the other parent; which parent can provide proper care and guidance for the child)

-Age of the child

-History of child abuse

-History of domestic violence