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California child custody: basic rules and visitation orders

California’s family law statutes prioritize the health and welfare of minors whose parents are divorcing. Courts prefer custody agreements that allow children to develop meaningful relationships with all of their family members, but the children’s “best interest” always comes first.

How do California courts determine custody and visitation?

When determining the parameters of a child custody case, California’s family courts consider certain factors. These include:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s health
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child
  • The emotional ties shared between the respective parents and children
  • Family history
  • Substance abuse and addiction history
  • The child’s ties to community and neighborhood

Types of California visitation and custody orders

There are two types of child custody orders in California and multiple types of visitation orders. Parents are granted either legal or physical custody; parties in good standing who do not have the kids at least 50% of the time enjoy either scheduled or reasonable visitation rights. Supervised and no visitation orders are used in more challenging situations.

Must the courts approve all custody agreements?

Technically speaking, a judge doesn’t need to approve mutually negotiated custody agreements. However, if you want the deal to be legally enforceable, a judge must convert it into a court order. It’s a bureaucratic, rubber-stamp process that’s worth it for anyone who wants their custody and visitation plans to have legal standing.

California’s child custody rules are relatively straightforward, and the courts make an effort to be as consistent as possible. However, if you’re navigating divorce, you may want to negotiate an agreement that the judge signs rather than leave everything up to the court.