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Child Custody and Visitation in California

There are two types of child custody in California: Legal Custody and Physical Custody. Legal Custody refers to the decision making process of issues relating to the child, such as education, medical care and extracurricular activities. Physical Custody refers to the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Joint legal and physical custody are most common in California, and increasingly so. Physical custody does not necessarily mean 50-50 or equal timeshare. It can be 60-40 or even 70-30 in terms of the percentage of time with each parent. You can even have the joint legal and physical custody label even though one parent only visits the child on alternating weekends and holidays. Sometimes the "joint" language makes it easier to establish an agreement with the visiting parent, giving that parent a greater feeling of inclusiveness and importance in the decision making and child rearing process.

Sole custody is normally reserved for instances where joint custody would be inappropriate or impractical, such as in cases of serious domestic violence, drug abuse, or long distance visitation, where the parents live in different states.

If a parent wants to move out of state with a child, leaving the other parent behind, the likelihood of the court granting such a request will depend on a number of factors, including the amount of time that parent has spent with the child--i.e., is that parent the primary custodial parent--and whether the reason for the move is justifiable and in good faith, such as a new employment opportunity. Ultimately, the court will be most concerned with the child's best interests and may condition any move away on travel expenses being shared or born completely by the move away parent, with special provisions to ensure frequent and continuing telephonic, internet and in person visitation with the parent left behind by the move.

If you are experiencing difficulties with child custody and visitation, the court may order a child custody evaluation by a trained psychologist to determine what parenting plan is in the best interests of the child. Alternatively, the court may appoint minor's counsel, an attorney who represents the child rather than the parents. This is commonly done in high conflict cases but is also helpful in cases where neither party has an attorney, and an attorney is needed to mediate between parents and facilitate completion of proper forms for the court.

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