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What Does it Mean to Have Legal Custody of Children in California?

Posted on in Child Custody and Visitation

Los Gatos child custody attorneyIn a divorce involving children, one of the most important decisions you will make is, “Who has legal custody of the children?”

The Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody 

Legal custody and physical custody are two separate issues. Physical custody refers to where the children will live. Legal custody describes who has the right to make major decisions about the lifestyle and care of minor children. This article will focus strictly on the definition of legal custody. 

Legal Custody in California

Under California law, the person(s) with legal custody has the right and responsibility to make critical decisions for the minor children, including: 

  • General education, such as what school they will attend and how to handle decisions about any issues that may arise at school (e.g., disciplinary actions or the need for special education or tutoring).
  • Daycare and after-school care arrangements.
  • Religious education and church attendance.
  • Physical health care, including preventive care like check-ups and vaccines, as well as making treatment decisions in the case of illness or accident. These types of issues are increasingly contentious, as some parents prefer natural and alternative remedies, while others prefer modern American medical practices, which frequently involve prescription drugs. 
  • Mental health care, such as treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist. 
  • Sports and activities that the children participate in, including summer camps. Parents may disagree on what sports are safe for a child or how much time the child should spend on school versus extracurricular activities.
  • Travel, including whether the child may go on school trips or trips with friends or family away from home or out of the country.

How Custody Is Decided in California

Ideally, parents who are divorcing or separating, with the help of their lawyers, can jointly develop and agree on a custody and visitation plan (also known as the parenting plan) that works best for their particular family situation. A judge will typically approve whatever arrangement the parents agree upon, as long as it protects the child’s best interests.

If the parents cannot reach agreement on their own, the judge will ask the parents to work with a trained mediator. Only if necessary will the judge make the final decision for the family, based on the “best interests of the child” standard.

Consult a Los Gatos, CA Child Custody Lawyer

A Los Gatos family law attorney can help you resolve divorce and child custody issues through mediation or litigation. At the Law Offices of Benita Ventresca, we have been advocating for clients in Santa Clara County for 40 years. Contact us at 408-395-8822 for a free initial consultation.


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