Kathleen J. Smith, Attorney at Law

Key terms of child custody

The single most important thing to determine when a California couple with children parts ways is with whom the children will live. Child custody can be a very contentious issue between separating or divorcing parents. However, it can be handled constructively. The parents can put together a parenting plan that works for them and for their children. In order to do so, it is important to understand some key terms about custody.

One is legal custody, which is about having access to information about the children and making decisions about the children. Regardless of with whom the children live, both parents may share joint legal custody. That means, for one part, that they are both entitled to get information about their children from schools, doctors and other sources.

When parents share joint legal custody, all of those sources of information should be informed of that to avoid confusion. When making decisions involving joint legal custody, like what school and what doctor they will go to, both parents have shared input. Day-to-day decisions, like what to have for lunch, can be left to the parent the children are with at the time.

Physical custody is about who has the children living with them and can be approached in many different ways. One parent may have sole custody, defined as having the children live with them all the time. Alternatively, the parents can share joint physical custody. That can play out in a number of ways, e.g., the children can switch between both parents' homes each week or they can be with each parent on specific days every week. The parenting plan should be based on what is best for the children.

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