The court’s primary concern in making custody and visitation orders is what is in the best interest of the children, which includes assessing the health, safety, and welfare of the children. California Family Code Section 3020 (a).
It is also public policy that the children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. California Family Code Section 3020 (b). How frequent and continuous the contact is with the parents is determined on a case by case basis. Courts do not favor mothers over fathers. The code prohibits favoritism of one over the other based on gender. However, if a child is newborn or breast feeding, sometimes the courts will give fathers less time at first to allow the child to acclimate to being away from the mother.
There are two kinds of custody:
Legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody deals with the rights and responsibilities each parent has to make decisions in the children’s lives relating to the health, education, and general well being. Physical custody deals with where the children live; how much time the child(ren) spend with each parent; how day-to-day responsibilities are fulfilled.
Joint Legal Custody:
Both parents share in the right and responsibility to make decisions relating to the health, education, and well being of their children. The parents need to communicate with each other regarding significant decisions regarding school, medical providers, medical treatment other than routine checkups, and religious upbringing. If the parents cannot agree then they need to seek resolution by consulting with a specialist in the area of dispute, then proceed to mediation and to the court if the matter is still not resolved.
Sole Legal Custody:
One parent has the right and responsibility to make decisions relating to the health, education, and well being of their children. In these cases the parent with sole legal custody may be required to notify the other parent, but is not required to obtain the other parent’s consent or agreement.
Joint Physical Custody:
The children spend a substantial amount of time with both parents. Just because there is joint physical custody that does not automatically mean that the parties have a “50-50” or equal visitation schedule. The non-custodial parent could have something much less than an equal visitation time. It is generally still “joint” if there is significant time with each parent. Percentages actually deal with what the visitation schedule means in calculating child support. Physical custody and visitation is ordered in terms of days and times, not percentages.
Sole Physical Custody:
The children live primarily with one parent. The other parent either has no visitation or very limited visitation.