California child custody laws have two components: legal custody and physical custody.  Both are based on what is in the child’s best interests, considering all the facts and circumstances.

Legal custody means who makes the decisions re your child’s health care, education and religion.

Often times, parents share joint legal custody and enjoy having equal rights to make important decisions.  In these cases, the parents are expected to consult with each other before making legal decisions for their child.

Health care decisions – the parents should agree to non-emergency health care for their child, including the selection of health care providers and whether and when health care procedures may take place.  Both parents also have equal access to the child’s health care records.

Education – the parents should agree where their child attends school.  Deciding where a child attends school depends on where the child lives primarily, if a school provides a specific benefit to the child, etc.  Where the child lives is a primary factor because most school districts have strict rules about enrollment based on the child’s residency.  If the child resides outside of the district boundaries, then it is likely that the school district will not permit the child to attend school in that district.


Religion – the parents should agree which religion or religions the child practices or associates with.  Both parents have an equal right to raise their child with a certain religious faith.  Deciding a child’s religion often depends on whether and to what extent the parents exercised their religion and if either parent exercised his or her religion in a way that excluded the other parent.

Physical custody means who the child lives with primarily.  The parents share joint physical custody if the child lives in each parent’s home approximately half of the time (i.e., between 40% and 50% of the time.)

The percentage of time with each parent also significantly influences a parent’s right to move with the child.  The parent who primarily cares for the child (e.g., 51% or more) may be considered the “primary” parent and thereby find it easier to move with the child.

The percentage of time also plays a large role in the amount of child support.

Child visitation is the actual parenting plan where both parents share the child’s time.  Child visitation plans are designed to promote frequent and continuing contact between the child and both parents.  Practically speaking, however, visitation plans depend on daily work and school schedules and holiday schedules.




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