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Divorce is an event that can bring about unexpected changes for children. Parents make adjustments to their lifestyles that require them to live in separate households and inevitably share child custody and parenting time obligations.

California law mandates that child custody decisions protect the best interests of children. Unfortunately, not all parents abide by their parental obligations. Here is a brief overview of how child custody works.

Divorce concerns can affect child custody

Divorce can occur as a mutual agreement in which both parties work things out with minimal court/legal involvement. It can also become a contentious event if either party does not want to keep their separation an amicable one. The type of divorce matters when there are concerns about child custody. Couples who agree on most parental/child custody matters can pursue mediation to maintain control over their circumstances and have most of their needs met in the custody agreements without sacrificing their children’s interests.

How child custody is assigned

Couples who are unable to cooperate on parenting matters must rely on the law to provide clarity and boundaries. Parents have a right to express their wishes to the courts. However, some circumstances require litigation to settle some child custody concerns.

The courts use the following criteria to make child custody decisions:

  • Parental relationship
  • Current living arrangements
  • Issues that could impact the children’s health, education and safety
  • Allegations of abuse or neglect
  • Parental education and financial profile

Depending on the circumstances, the courts may use additional criteria to determine parental suitability to establish legal or joint or sole custody. Joint custody allows children to see and live with both parents in separate residences according to a visitation schedule. Sole custody awards one parent complete custody of their kids, while legal custody establishes who is responsible to make decisions about their children’s health, education and legal concerns. It is not unusual for the courts to award joint legal or joint physical custody in divorce and family cases.