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Everything You Need to Know About California Child Custody Laws

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

Read Before Filing Child Custody Claims In California


Child custody is the legal term for the care, supervision, and upkeep of a child that a court may grant to one of the parents following a divorce or separation proceeding. Custody battles are unfortunately popular in this country. Many people fall in love and have children, but the love does not last for some reason, and now they have a child to raise. You might need to help of a Child Custody Attorney in Los Angeles to get you through these complicated times.


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A parent's responsibility is to raise their child and provide them with at least the necessities of life, such as a home, an education, health care, and a spiritual upbringing, whether it is religious or values-based. If there is a dispute over which parent has the parental right to raise the child and make these decisions, or if government authorities think either of the parents is incompetent to raise the child, the family courts or juvenile courts will step in to decide who gets custody of the child.


Child Support in California


Child welfare in California is determined by the amount of time each parent spends caring for the child and each parent's net disposable monthly income. If the measurement of child support is insufficient in a specific situation, the court has the authority to deviate from the guidelines.


The court can also change child support in California due to a shift in circumstances. This would include the following:

  • A big adjustment in the income of one of the parents

  • A change in the parent with whom the child spends more time.

  • A change in the child's financial requirements (such as extraordinary medical or educational expenses)

Child support payments processed by the Department of Child Support Services can be set up electronically after the divorce has been granted, making the process more convenient for both parties. The Department of Child Support Services handles child support compliance if child support payment becomes an issue.


Understanding the various custody forms is critical when approaching your child custody or visitation case. In California, there are two forms of custody.


Child Custody Under The California Family Law


3003 of the California Family Code


Legal custody refers to a parent's right and power to make major decisions about their child's life, such as his or her health, schooling, religious activities, and so on. Typically, both parents will be given "joint" legal custody, which ensures that regardless of which parent the child resides with, both parents will be able to make certain types of decisions (see "physical custody" below). The court can award sole legal custody to one parent in more unusual circumstances, such as when parents cannot make decisions together or when one parent is considered "unfit" to have legal custody.


Legal custody orders in California grant one or both parents the authority to make decisions about:

  • Enrollment or withdrawal from a specific private or public school or daycare center.

  • Psychiatric, mental, or other psychological counseling or therapy begins or ends.

  • Extracurricular sports participation

  • Choosing a doctor, dentist, or other health care provider (a parent does not need to have legal custody to take action in emergency situations)

Participation in specific religious practices or institutions is prohibited.


3004 of the California Family Code


The term "physical custody" refers to which parent the child lives with daily. One parent typically has "primary" physical custody, which means the child stays with and is supervised by that parent most of the time. The other parent frequently has visitation rights in such situations. Both parents have "joint" physical custody if the child spends considerable time with both parents.


A court will frequently consider the following factors when determining physical custody issues:

  • Schedules of work

  • Arrangements for living

  • Domestic violence or harassment in the past

  • Other details unique to each situation will be considered in the best interests of the child

When deciding how physical custody will be shared, if at all, the child's best interests are taken into account first and foremost.


Sole custody


The main physical caretaker is determined to be one of the parents. In this case, the noncustodial parent is often given a generous visiting schedule and the right to participate in shared decisions regarding the child's upbringing.


To broaden and expand the role of a divorced father in his children's lives, most courts are moving away from granting sole custody to one parent. However, suppose one parent is considered unfit due to alcohol or drug addiction. In that case, their new wife is unsuitable, or they are accused of negligence or assault, the courts are likely to give the other parent sole physical custody.


You can not seek sole custody unless the other parent is causing serious harm to the children.


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Joint Custody


Both parents share decision-making and/or physical custody of their children while they have joint or shared custody. If the parents are divorced, split, no longer cohabiting, or have never lived together, joint custody can be granted.


The following are some examples of joint custody arrangements:

  • Both parents share custody.

  • Physical custody is shared.

  • Judicial and physical custody is shared.

It is normal for couples who share physical custody to also share legal custody, although this is not always the case.


When joint custody is shared, parents usually work out a plan based on their work schedules, living arrangements, and the needs of their children. If the parents cannot agree on a timetable, the court will make one for them. The most popular trend is for the child to alternate weeks between both parents' homes.


Such shared physical custody agreements include:

  • Months, years, or six-month cycles alternate.

  • It will also include weekends and holidays spent with one parent and weekdays spent with the other.

    • "Birds nest custody," also known as "nesting," is a form of custody in which the infant stays in the family home while the parents alternate, moving in and out. In this case, the parents have their own separate residences.


Is It Possible For Me To Have Physical Custody But Not Legal Custody?


You're probably aware that there are two forms of custody: physical and legal custody. They do not, however, have to be identical. For example, one parent can have sole physical custody while the other shares legal custody. Both parents can share both legal and physical custody. One parent may have sole legal and physical custody of their child, while the other has none. When deciding on all custody forms, the family court judge will decide what is in the child's best interest.


When it comes to custody, do grandparents have any rights?


If one of the parents is legally eligible to take custody of the infant, grandparents are unlikely to get custody. Grandparents do, however, have visitation rights in certain cases. Under California law, a grandparent will ask the court for visitation with their grandchild if the following conditions are met:

  • A grandparent and grandchild had a prior relationship that "engendered a bond."

  • Grandparent visitation should strike a balance between the child's best interests and the parent's right to make decisions about the child.


Depending on the Parents' Status

  • Parents Who Have Divorced

    • If the child's parents split, the custody agreement is incorporated into the divorce settlement. The declaration specifies who the child will live with, how the child will be visited, and who will provide financial support for the child. We just want the best for the child and will never put him or her in danger. However, we do not want to deny any child access to their parents (unless there is a valid reason, e.g., abuse). When strategizing a custody case, we consider all options.

  • Parents who are not married

    • Most states automatically grant custody to the biological mother if the child's parents were never married. If the father seeks physical custody, he must take the necessary measures to be considered. While an unwed father is unlikely to gain custody from a good mother, he may have preference over friends, foster parents, or strangers who want to adopt his child.

Consider one of our prescreened Los Angeles Family Lawyer in your California Attorney Search.


The Child's Best Interests


The court must decide based on the child's best interests when making a California child custody order. The following things will be considered by the court, in addition to any other factors it deems relevant:

  • The child's health, protection, and well-being

  • Any history of domestic violence by one parent or any other individual seeking custody of any of the following

  • any child to whom he or she is blood or affinity related or with whom he or she has had a caring relationship

  • a friendship, no matter how short-lived

  • one of the parents

  • A relative, current partner, or cohabitant of the parent or person seeking custody or a dating or marriage arrangement with the parent or person seeking custody.

The court can require substantial independent corroboration before considering allegations of abuse, such as written reports from law enforcement agencies, child protective services or other social welfare agencies, courts, medical facilities, or other public or private nonprofit organizations that provide services to victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.


Here are things to look at:

  • The type of interaction you have with both parents and how much time you spend with them.

  • The use of illicit controlled drugs regularly, the abuse of alcohol regularly, or the abuse of prescription controlled substances regularly by either parent.

The court may first request independent corroboration, such as written reports from law enforcement authorities, courts, probation departments, social care agencies, medical facilities, recovery facilities, or other governmental agencies or nonprofit organizations that provide drug and alcohol addiction services, before addressing these charges.


Preferences of the Child


According to California law, if a child is mature enough to make an informed decision about custody, the courts must consider the decision. While there is no legal requirement for a particular age, it makes sense that the older the child is, the more likely he or she will be able to make an informed decision.

Children over 14 years old, or children under 14 with adequate capacity to develop an intelligent preference as to child custody and visitation, are allowed to testify about their preference under California Family Code unless the court decides that it is not in the child's best interest to testify.

In fact, the court is more likely to rule that it is not in the best interests of a child to testify about his or her preference for one parent over the other. Since most family law judges are reluctant, if not outright hostile, to calling minor children to testify in court, a parent who makes such a request risks losing legitimacy.


Having said that, each case has its own set of circumstances, and your case can benefit from having your child testify.


Do California courts favor the mother or father?


If the parents are married, California courts can decide custody based on the child's best interests, not on a preference for one parent over the other. If the parents are not married, the mother has custody of the child before paternity is confirmed legally, which can be done by a paternity case or both parents signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity.


Counsel for Minors


You may believe that everything you do as a parent is in your child's best interests. However, the emotions of a contentious divorce or custody battle will sometimes cloud your judgment. Parents or government employees can sometimes hold opposing viewpoints about what is best for their children. Even if you don't think your child needs a Family Law Attorney, the court can appoint a minor's attorney to assist the judge in resolving the situation.


In any case, involving child custody or visitation, California law provides for the appointment of "minor's counsel." Divorce is included in this. In a custody case, a child does not need their own counsel. In most low-conflict cases, parents are willing to reach an agreement or make claims to the court regarding custody and visitation that are in the best interests of their children. In higher-risk cases, such as domestic violence, however, one parent is often pitted against an abuser who is all too happy to put their own interests ahead of the child's. Under California court law, a minor's counsel can be sufficient if:

  • There is a lot of tension between the parents, or they have a long legal history.

  • The child is under stress as a result of the conflict.

  • There is information available about the child's best interests that neither parent is likely to present.

  • There have been allegations of child abuse and neglect.

  • Any or both parents may be unable to provide the child with a healthy, clean, and secure environment.

  • A minor's attorney may provide insight into specific problems for the case.

  • The court agrees that autonomous legal representation is the best option.

A mediator, lawyers, or prosecutors in an assault, neglect, or child abduction case, or those experts making custody suggestions to the court may all request minor's counsel. A family law judge may also choose to name an independent Family Law Attorney In Los Angeles for a minor. If two or more children are involved, the court can appoint separate attorneys for each of them if their interests vary.


How Minor's Counsel Work?


Based on the facts presented in court, custody and visitation decisions must be made by a family court judge. The proof is restricted by the parents' priorities and their lawyers' access to information, regardless of how long a trial lasts (some of which is often confidential). A minor's attorney will help the court by bringing facts and evidence to light that would otherwise go unnoticed.


The Child's Related Information


A minor's attorney, once named, acts as a fact-finder on behalf of your child, regardless of any parent's preferences or interests. They serve as a neutral voice for the child before the child reaches the age of 18 or the court terminates their appointment. The minor's attorney supports the judge by collecting evidence that would not otherwise be available in court. This may include the following:

  • Directly speaking to the child (without either parent present)

  • Teachers, doctors, and therapists were interviewed.

  • Examining school records, such as report cards and disciplinary files.

  • Getting access to medical records

  • requesting that minors undergo physical and psychological tests

  • Provide the judge with fact-finding reports.

After the review of a minor's attorney is completed, he or she will write a report for the judge. The minor's counsel will raise questions about the child's treatment, review findings related to the child's health, safety, and well-being, and express an opinion about what is in the child's best interests in this report. Judges also offer these reports significant weight when settling a child custody conflict between the parents because the minor's lawyer can access a more accurate view of the child's life.


Letting the Child Decide


If a child is of "reasonable age and capacity to reason to form an intelligent choice as to custody," California law requires family law judges to consider the child's preference when determining custody and visitation. Even so, an infant testifying before a judge is extremely uncommon. Depending on the child and the circumstances, going to court to tell their parents or attorneys where they want to live can be overwhelming, even upsetting, and can hurt the child's relationship with their parents. In such cases, the minor's attorney will meet individually with the child to discuss their interests and then present those preferences to the court in a manner that respects the child's rights and wishes, as well as the parent-child relationship.


A minor's lawyer, on the other hand, is not allowed to lobby for the child's preferences. They serve as a neutral and impartial third party, and their opinions are focused on the child's overall situation, not just their desires. It's a bad idea for parents and try to deduce a child's interests from a minor's attorney's comments in court.


Should You Get A Minor's Counsel?


For many parents, deciding whether or not their child requires their own lawyer is a tough decision. The parents are normally responsible for paying for the minor's legal representation. The court will decide how those costs are split. That means you should think about whether you can afford the extra-legal costs that will result before making an appointment.


You may believe that by requesting the appointment of a minor's attorney, you would gain another advocate on your side. The autonomous aspect of a minor's counsel's appointment, on the other hand, could come back to haunt you unless you are completely confident of the truth. And if you are the one who requests the appointment and pays the bills, the minor's lawyer owes you no responsibility. That means that any role you play in the problems your child is having will be revealed. Speak to your family lawyer about the possible negative effects before pressing for an appointment, and be completely honest about everything the child or the professionals dealing with them can say against you.


Even so, high-conflict custody battles can place your entire family, including your children, under stress. Requesting an appointment with a minor's counsel can relieve your child's stress and ensure their needs are met, particularly when the truth appears difficult to prove.



In cases involving a father's right to see his child and his legal obligation to support his children, paternity is a crucial legal question. No matter what kind of paternity problem you're dealing with, our experienced legal team will guide you through the entire process.


If you have questions about your rights or responsibilities as a parent, our prescreened California Family Law Attorney can help you with a variety of paternity issues, including:

Modern DNA testing can ascertain the paternity of a child with near-perfect precision, making it a crucial factor in family law cases. If you feel your rights are being violated in your current child custody or child support situation, you can seek legal counsel immediately to protect yourself and your relatives. Today's DNA tests can prove or disprove paternity with an accuracy approaching 100%.


Our paternity attorneys will assist you if you have been ordered to pay child support but claim you are not the biological father or if you have been refused child custody or visitation because you are not the biological father.


Parentage Determination


A paternity test is a DNA test that decides whether or not a man is the biological father of a child. It can be done with blood or saliva samples, and DNA testing is nearly 100 percent accurate these days.


If either the mother or the supposed father of a child wants, they have the legal right to request a paternity test.


Why Is It Essential to Establish Parentage?


Paternity establishes a man's civil rights and obligations toward a specific child. If a father wants the right to spend time with his kids, he will almost certainly have to prove his paternity in court.


On the other hand, certain mothers need evidence of paternity to receive child support from their children's fathers.


A paternity attorney can assist clients with issues such as:

  1. Child support is either underpaid or overpaid.

  2. Inequitable child custody arrangements

  3. Incorrect birth certificates


Unmarried Parents Will Benefit from Paternity Tests


If a couple has a child without being legally married, they do not automatically have a legal custody agreement; they would need to file a Complaint to Establish Parental Relations if they wish to establish parental rights over the child.


This legal action will do much more than arrange visiting schedules for divorcing parents. Even if the couple never divorces, they must file this lawsuit to determine their legal rights to their child, especially the fathers.


Paternity Fraud


Every year, an unknown number of men discover that they have been duped into believing that they are the fathers of their female partners' children. The men often spend a lot of money and time educating these children because they consider them their own.


Paternity fraud may occur when men discover they are not the fathers of the children they have been raising. Contact a Paternity Lawyer in Los Angeles if you recently discovered that the kid you've been raising isn't yours.


Fraudulent Motives

The most compelling explanation for paternity fraud is the potential for additional financial support from the parent. Paternity fraud, like all other types of fraud, can be considered a felony in some jurisdictions. It may also be called a civil injustice. This is significant because men can sue mothers to recover money spent on the children involved.

DNA tests are often used to resolve paternity fraud allegations. If the examination reveals that the plaintiff is not the baby's biological father, he could be released from his legal and financial responsibilities to them.


When taking legal action, it's important to remember that hiring an experienced Los Angeles Paternity Attorney can be crucial.


What's an unfit parent?


The court can order a child custody evaluation to decide whether a parent is unfit. The evaluator can take into account:

  1. The parent's previous degree of involvement in the child's life

  2. How well the parent comprehends and responds to the needs of the child

  3. The parent's feelings toward the child

  4. Whether or not the parent should set age-appropriate boundaries

  5. When a parent has a disagreement with the other parent, how does he or she handle it?

  6. Child maltreatment or a history of domestic violence

  7. Whether or not there has been a prior history of drug abuse

  8. If the parent suffers from a mental disorder that jeopardizes the child's well-being


Would My Ex-Spouse Be Able To Damage Me With My Social Media Posts?


Our lives are broadcast online in this day and age. Your social media could be used against you depending on your share. A judge could refuse to give you physical custody if you have made posts about drug use, heavy drinking, abuse, or other questionable conduct.


Visitation Time


"Visitation" refers to a parent who has physical custody of their child for less than half of the time. Visitation orders can differ depending on the children's best interests and other factors. Visitation can be ordered in the following ways:

  • Visitation in accordance with the schedule

    • In most cases, having a detailed visiting schedule helps both the children and the parents by preventing disputes and misunderstanding. A visitation plan would detail the days and times the children will spend with each parent, as well as all other visitation-related orders, such as transportation to and from visits, holiday and vacation plans, and prohibitions on making disparaging remarks about the other parent in front of the children.

  • Reasonable visitation

    • Fair visitation instructions are usually open-ended and do not have a fixed timetable. Reasonable visitation orders can only be used when the parents get along and are willing to be flexible in their parenting schedules.


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  • Supervised visitation

    • In cases where the child's health, protection, or welfare requires that a parent be watched, or in some cases where the parent and child were separated and now need time to form a relationship before spending time alone, the court may order supervised visitation. The court may require supervised visits by a professional, trustworthy friend, or family member who has never abused a child.

  • No Visitation

    • This choice is used when visitation may be physically or emotionally harmful to the infant. Since serious child abuse charges are normally treated by other courts, "no visitation" orders in family court are usually issued temporarily when an investigation is underway or when an absentee parent demonstrates no interest in developing or sustaining a relationship with the child.


What Is the Impact of Moving Out of State on Child Custody?


The parent with physical custody of the child will legally travel out of state with the child if the move does not jeopardize the child's best interests. If a parent intends to move away with their child for more than 30 days, California law requires them to give written notice at least 45 days before the planned move so that the parents can work out a new custody or visitation arrangement. If the noncustodial parent objects to the transfer, he or she may file a relocation objection and ask the court to change custody.


Your child's home state has priority in an interstate child custody dispute.


Like every other state, California used to have its laws about interstate child custody cases. In an effort to find a more suitable environment for their children, parents will often attempt to move them to another state.


Since then, each state has enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) as its own statute, with slight variations. This limits the child's jurisdiction to the child's home state and other states with a close relationship to the child. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) gave preference to the child's home state in subsequent model legislation.


Who is qualified to make a child support request?


Any parent can request child support orders by filing one of the following cases:

  • Divorce, Legal Dissolution, or Annulment (in the case of married parents);

  • Petition to Create Parental Relationship, also known as a paternity case (for unmarried parents who have not signed a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity);

  • Petition for Minor Children's Custody and Support (for parents who are unmarried and have signed a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity).


What Factors Go Into Child Support?


California has a statewide standardized "Guideline" for measuring child support based on a complicated calculation that is primarily based on each parent's income and time spent with the child. The court is not allowed to order payments above or below the Guideline except in very limited circumstances, in which case the court may add a "hardship deduction" to the calculation. The estimation of the Guideline is based on the following factors:

  • The taxable profits or earnings of each parent

  • The total number of children the parents have

  • The amount of time each parent spends with his or her children (timeshare)

  • Each parent's actual tax filing status (single, head of household, etc.)

  • Children from other relationships receive additional assistance

  • Expenses for health benefits and other medical costs not covered by insurance

  • Union fees and mandatory retirement payments are both obligatory

  • The cost of child care


Deductions for hardship/difficulties


If a parent is experiencing severe financial hardship due to justifiable expenditures resulting from the following, a party can request that the court remove a "hardship deduction" from his or her gross annual income when determining his or her net disposable income.

  • Extraordinary medical costs or devastating damages for which the parent is financially liable

  • The parent's natural or adopted children from another partnership who live with the parent's basic living expenses

  • The hardship deduction cannot be more than the amount of child care paid by the parent in the current situation.

When it comes to child support orders, they can be changed if there is a change in conditions that affect the estimate. Often, these orders are updated when a parent switches jobs and earns more or less money or when orders are changed so that the parents' timeshare differs from what was previously calculated for child support.


If you are the parent who is supposed to pay child support, you must continue to pay the entire sum specified in your current order until the order is amended. And if you lose your job and have no income, failing to make court-ordered payments will result in an arrearage order. Interest is levied on outstanding arrears at a rate of 10% per year on the entire unpaid balance.


Find A Family Lawyer in Los Angeles for Child Custody Case

Attempting to negotiate a child custody arrangement can be difficult, particularly during a contentious divorce. Hiring a Los Angeles Child Custody Lawyer with experience handling these delicate and crucial circumstances will make all the difference.


1000Attorneys.com is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to a qualified Family Law Attorney for Child Custody and other Family Law Cases. You can contact us via our 24/7 Live Chat or complete our submission form for a FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION.


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