How Does Child Custody Work in California?
If you’re confused about the different types of child custody and how they work, you’re not alone. Here, we’ll demystify some of the basic terms and concepts you need to know when you’re trying to create a good parenting plan, focusing on what it means to share custody of your kids.
To start, let’s look at the two basic legal elements of child custody: physical custody and legal custody.
Physical custody is all about where your children live. You and your children’s other parent may share physical custody or just one of you may get physical custody. The legal term for sharing is joint physical custody. If the kids live with just one parent, that’s called sole physical custody.
How to Enforce a Child Custody Order in California
Your options for enforcing a child custody agreement depend on whether a court approved your plan. If a judge issued or approved your custody agreement, it has the strength of a court order. That means the agreement is legally binding on both parents and violations will be easier to prove, correct, and sometimes even punish.
Enforcement If You Don’t Have a Court Order
Without a court order, police or the courts can enforce your custody agreement only if you believe your child is in immediate danger. If that is ever the case, don’t wait to call the local police or the child abduction unit at the county district attorney’s office.
Get California Parenting Plan and Agreement Help
Here are five places you can turn for help creating a child custody and visitation agreement in California.
Your lawyer or a legal aid representative. This one’s obvious, but if you have a lawyer (whether paid or volunteer) that should be the first person you turn to for guidance on creating your parenting agreement. If you need help finding legal assistance, see How to Find a Child Custody Lawyer in California.
Mediation. A skilled child custody mediator can help with everything from living arrangements and visitation schedules to decision-making responsibilities and financial agreements. A mediator’s job is to help you explore all the options and settle on the best solutions for all involved, especially the kids. Here are several ways to find a qualified mediator:
How to Find a California Child Custody Lawyer
There are many legal matters you can handle on your own, but a child custody fight is probably not one of them. First, the stakes are high for all involved—especially for the children. Second, California child custody laws and procedures are complex and it’s tough to handle complexity under stress. Mistakes may lead to confusing, expensive, and unhappy outcomes.
We don’t say these things to scare you. Our intention is to underscore reality and to encourage you to ask for help. Even if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer outright, you may be able to find free or low-cost legal assistance. At the very least, you can take advantage of the increasing number of custody self-help resources offered by local courts.