Photo of Professionals at McCoy Fatula, APC
Photo of Professionals at McCoy Fatula, APC

What is legal child custody?

On Behalf of | Feb 11, 2023 | Child Custody

If you’re a California parent who is preparing for divorce proceedings, it is wise to want to gain clear understanding of numerous legal terms that might be relevant to your case. Resolving issues that pertain to your children’s care and well-being will no doubt be a central focus of your settlement. Certain phrases, such as “child custody,” are broad in meaning because they refer to multiple statuses or aspects of a divorce that are applicable to parenting.  

You may have heard the term “legal custody” as you and your ex begin to etch out a co-parenting plan. It’s important to note that this type of child custody is entirely separate from “physical” custody. In fact, the court, by its discretion, may grant a particular parent one status but not the other. There are several key factors to know about legal custody, which can help you make informed decisions when the time comes to sign a custody agreement in your divorce.  

Legal child custody gives you authority to make decisions 

When the court issues an order regarding legal child custody, it is granting one or both parents the authority to make decisions on the children’s behalf once their divorce has been finalized. If you and your ex share legal custody, you must consult each other before either of you makes a decision regarding issues such as education, matters of religion, health care, finances and more.  

On the other hand, if the judge overseeing your case grants you exclusive (or sole) legal custody of your children, you do not have to seek agreement from your ex or consult him or her in any way before making decisions on behalf of your kids. This can help reduce conflict but also places full responsibility on one parent over the other. It is also possible that not having legal custody might spark resentment or jealousy, especially if the relationship between the parents has been contentious from the start. 

The court can issue child custody orders on a temporary basis 

In certain circumstances, the court might determine it necessary to issue a temporary legal child custody order, until you and your ex have achieved a divorce settlement and a final decree is handed down. If a judge grants you temporary legal custody of your children, you gain all rights and authority that are relevant to the status for a certain amount of time.  

You might have legal custody over one child but not another 

When making child custody decisions for a family that includes multiple children, a family court judge considers the bests interests of each child in accordance with state guidelines and consideration of various factors, such as age, maturity level, whether special needs exist and more. It’s possible that the court might grant you legal child custody for one child or several, but not another.  

Most California family court judges believe that, in typical circumstances, when there are no extenuating issues, such as parental substance abuse or child neglect, etc., children fare best when their parents share legal and physical child custody in a divorce. As a parent, you can and should seek additional guidance and support to address any custody issue that is causing you concern. 

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