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When parents of minor children divorce in California, the parents agree about custody and division of parenting time. Compromising with your child’s other parent on a parenting plan can help alleviate the time and cost of divorce proceedings. 

The state recognizes several types of custody arrangements, including joint or sole physical and legal custody with associated visitation schedules. 

Defining legal and physical custody 

Legal custody is the right to make important decisions on your child’s behalf. Examples include health care, education, lifestyle and religious instruction. The court may order joint or sole legal custody. When parents share joint legal custody, they may make decisions independently but should collaborate on major changes in the child’s life. 

With joint physical custody, the child spends about the same amount of time living with each parent. In other cases, one parent has sole custody and the other has visitation. 

Types of visitation schedules 

Parents have the freedom to agree on the visitation schedule that works best for their family. Common forms of California visitation include: 

  • Reasonable visitation, in which the non-custodial parent has open-ended visitation. This schedule works well when parents have a good relationship, communicate with one another well and prefer to have flexible parenting time. 
  • Scheduled visitation, which outlines a detailed plan of when children will be with each parent, including time on holidays and school vacations 
  • Supervised visitation, in which the non-custodial parent can only see the children in the presence of another adult or an agency because of risk to the child’s well-being 

When parents cannot agree, the family court judge decides custody based on the child’s best interest. This determination considers the child’s age, health and parents; emotional connection and relationship with parents and community; the parents’ ability to provide support and care; and any substance abuse, neglect or violence history. The court limits visitation only when seeing the parent would cause the child emotional or physical harm.