What do Legal Custody and Physical Custody mean in California Family Law Courts?

In California, the Family Code does not favor Mothers or Fathers. Either parent can have custody of the children, or the parents can share custody. The judge makes the final decision about custody and visitation but usually will approve the parenting plan if parents can agree. If the parents cannot agree, the judge will make a decision at a court hearing.


Types of custody orders in California

There are two kinds of child custody:

  • Legal custody, which means who makes important decisions for your children such as health care, education, and welfare; and

  • Physical custody, which means who your children live with.

Legal custody can be:

  • Joint, where both parents share the right and responsibility to make the important decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children.

OR

  • Sole, where only 1 parent has the right and responsibility to make the important decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children.

Parents with legal custody make decisions or choices about their children’s:

  • School or child care

  • Religious activities or institutions

  • Psychiatric, psychological, or other mental health counseling or therapy needs

  • Doctor, dentist, orthodontist, or other health professional (except in emergency situations)

  • Sports, summer camp, vacation, or extracurricular activities

  • Travel

  • Residence (where the children will live)

Parents who share legal custody both have the right to make decisions about these aspects of their children’s lives, but they do not have to agree on every decision. Either parent can make a decision alone.


Physical custody can be:

  • Joint, which means that the children live with both parents.

  • Sole (or primary) which means the children live with 1 parent most of the time and usually visit the other parent on certain days or at certain times.

Joint physical custody does not mean that the children must spend half the time with each parent. When one parent has the children more than half of the time, then that parent is sometimes called the “primary custodial parent.”


Sometimes, the courts give parents joint legal custody, but not joint physical custody. This means that both parents share the responsibility for making important decisions in the children’s lives, but the children live with one parent most of the time. The parent who does not have physical custody usually has visitation with the children.


If you find yourself with a child custody dispute in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino Counties, or Greater Southern California, don't trust just anyone with the future of you and your children, Call "The Fathers Rights Attorney" to help you successfully navigate California Family Law Courts at 951-223-1058 or book a consultation online here