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California has unique laws regarding child custody and visitation. These laws are intended to protect the best interests of the child while also providing parents with fair rights and opportunities to be involved in their children’s lives.

Navigating the system of child custody cases in California can be a complicated process. In this article, we will provide an overview of the legal process, types of child custody, and tips on filing for and obtaining a child custody order in California.

By understanding the law, parents can have greater peace of mind when it comes to making decisions that are in the best interest of their children. So let’s get started.

Child Custody in California

Child custody is the legal term used to describe both physical and legal responsibility for a child. Physical custody refers to the time each parent spends with the child. In contrast, legal custody determines who has the right to make decisions about education, medical care, and religious upbringing.

In California, the courts refer to these as “parental responsibility” and “decision-making authority.” The courts strive to provide both parents with equal rights and responsibilities while also taking into consideration the best interests of the child.

Obtaining a Child Custody Order in California

The court process to obtain a child custody order in California involves several steps. Parents will need to:

Establish parental responsibility and decision-making authority

The parents need to decide which parent will have primary physical custody and who will have decision-making authority. The joint custody arrangement is the most common, where both parents share physical and legal custody. In cases where the court determines that both parents should share in the decision-making process, they may order mediation or a parenting plan.

A single parent can also request sole custody if there are extenuating circumstances, such as domestic violence, drug or alcohol use, or other safety concerns. If the parents are unable to agree, the court will decide based on what is in the best interest of the child.

Filing for child custody in court

Once the parents have agreed to parental responsibility and decision-making authority terms, they must file an action for child custody in court. This will start the formal legal process. The parent who files first is known as the “petitioner” and the other parent is known as the “respondent.”

The petitioner must file the appropriate legal documents, such as a Petition for Child Custody and Visitation form, with the court. Filing fees may apply. After the documents have been filed, the petitioner must serve a copy of the papers to the respondent.

Serving notice to the other parent

The petitioner will need to formally notify (“serve”) the respondent of the pending court action. This typically involves hiring a process server or using a sheriff’s office. The respondent must be served with a copy of both the Petition for Child Custody and Visitation and any other documents that were filed in court.

Some courts require the petitioner to fill out a form to prove that they have served the respondent with notice. The respondent must respond within a certain time or risk having the court enter an order without their input.

Attending a court hearing

Once the documents have been filed and properly served, both parties must appear in court for a hearing. The judge will listen to each party’s arguments and review any evidence presented, such as medical records, school reports, or witnesses.

The judge will order child custody and visitation rights based on the information provided. This may include frequent visits with both parents, overnight visits, or even sole custody for one parent. The judge will also determine who holds legal and physical custody and the rights of both parents and the child regarding decision-making authority.

Types of Child Custody in California

In California, several types of child custody arrangements can be ordered by the court. These include:

Physical custody

Physical custody determines which parent the child will primarily reside with. This may be either joint physical custody or sole physical custody. You can also have split or shared physical custody, where the child spends equal time with each parent.

Legal custody

Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make decisions about a child’s upbringing, such as medical care and education. This may be either joint legal custody or sole legal custody, depending on the situation.

Joint custody

Joint custody is when both parents share the physical and legal custody of the child and make decisions together. This arrangement allows for maximum parental involvement, provided they can agree on decisions regarding their child’s upbringing.

Split or shared custody

Split or shared custody is when both parents have equal amounts of physical custody and legal decision-making authority. This arrangement allows the child to spend an equal amount of time with each parent while both parents maintain a degree of control over their child’s upbringing.

Visitation rights and schedules

In joint custody, each parent has the right to visitation with their child. Visitation schedules should be outlined in the legal documents that are filed with the court. Visitation schedules may include frequent visits, holiday visits, and overnight visits.

Modifying Existing Agreements

Child custody agreements can be modified if either parent requests it or if the court believes it is in the best interest of the child. The court may consider factors such as the age and needs of the child, changes in either parents’ financial situations, or any other relevant evidence presented by either party before making a decision.


Navigating the child custody process in California can be a complicated and emotional experience. Whether you are looking to establish, modify, or dissolve an existing agreement, it is essential to be familiar with the various types of custody available and the necessary steps for moving forward.

By understanding your parental rights and obligations, you can better prepare yourself for any potential challenges. With the right guidance and a proactive approach, you can confidently take on any child custody case in California. Good luck.

Farbood Majd Esq.

Family Law & Divorce Attorney in Beverly Hills

Providing service in English and Farsi

Address: 8383 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 646, Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Phone: 310.956.4600 | Fax: 310.878.8989

Email: [email protected]