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Heading to court? Get your custody definitions straight, first

When you and your spouse decided to divorce, you probably assumed you would face several challenges as you worked your way through the process. Especially where your children are concerned, issues are not always black and white, and many times, it takes a lot of negotiating and compromise before you can reach an agreement. Like most divorced parents in California, you likely want your children's best interests to be a central focus of your settlement.

When you divorce, even what initially seems like the most basic questions may wind up being difficult to answer, such as who will have custody of your kids. That in itself may be one of your greatest challenges since there are several types of custody, and each issue must be resolved before a final court order is issued.

Never assume, always seek clarification

Just because the court grants you one type of custody, doesn't mean you will have total custody in all areas. The following list provides basic facts about various types of child custody to help you differentiate between them and know what to expect when you go to settle such matters in court:

  • The thing that typically comes to your mind when you think of divorcing with children involved likely has to do with where your children will live. If the court determines your children should live with you full-time, you will be granted physical custody. 
  • Within physical custody, there are further-defined types, such as joint physical custody --where you and your former spouse share living time with your children on a rotating basis -- or sole physical custody. If you have sole physical custody, your children live with you all the time and have scheduled visits with their other parent (providing the court has not found any cause to prohibit that).
  • No matter where your children live, physical custody is an entirely different topic than legal custody. This type of custody refers to authority to make major life decisions on behalf of a child. Again, you may share legal custody with your former spouse or have sole legal custody. If you have shared legal custody, you must consult your children's other parent (and he or she must consult you) so that you both consent to any decisions or life changes made in your children's lives.

It would be wonderful if all parents would be able to set aside their differences long enough to communicate amicably and cooperate at all times in order to make thoughtful decisions for their children.

In reality, however, divorce is often messy, and you may even find yourself dealing with a situation where your former spouse is refusing to consent to your decisions or is merely making it impossible to achieve compromise just to spite you. This happens often in divorce, and many California parents reach out for support to protect their rights and get help to rectify such situations in court.

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