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Questions About Child Custody

1. How is child custody determined?

The Court must make all decisions about custody in the best interests of the children.  This almost always involves orders providing for frequent and continuing contact between the children and both parents.

There are two kinds of custody: legal and physical.

Legal custody is the decision-making authority for issues like health, education, driving licenses. Physical custody is the parental timeshare which divides the childs time between two parents and two homes.

“Joint” legal custody means that the parents make certain decisions together and certain decisions alone when the child is in that parent’s care. The joint decisions usually involve the child’s health, education and extra-curricular activities and are spelled out in the Judgment or court order.

“Sole” legal custody means that only one parent makes all decisions about the child’s health, education and welfare, but the parents should still discuss the issues together even if one parent has sole ultimate authority.

“Joint” physical custody means that both parents have substantial periods of time with the child. “Sole” physical custody means that one parent has most of the time with the child and the other parent has “visitation,” usually more limited time.

If custody issues are brought before a judge, he or she will consider how the child has spent his or her time in the past, but the judge is not bound by the “status quo.”  The Court makes its custody decision based on the “best interests” of the child.

Courts prefer that parents, not courts, work out custody arrangements.  It is mandatory under California law for the parties to attend mediation before proceeding to a hearing on custody.  In Los Angeles County, unlike some California counties, the mediation is confidential and no report is made to the Court by the mediator.  The mediation services of the Court are free to the parties.

2. What is a child custody evaluation?

When the parties cannot decide on a custody schedule in the best interests of the minor child, a court often orders an investigation by a social worker or a psychologist who acts as the Court’s expert.  The psychologist will meet with both parties together and each party alone with the child to determine the schedule in the best interests of the child.  If it is a psychological evaluation, the psychologist will also do testing of the parties.

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