If you are a parent planning a divorce in California, you probably already know that you, your spouse and potentially the court will face many decisions regarding the lives of your children after the dissolution of your marriage. You may experience some confusion over the legal terminology involved, especially terms that can have more than one meaning, such as “custody.” 

According to Verywell Family, your divorce agreement will contain provisions for two different types of custody over your children: physical custody and legal custody. Unlike physical custody, legal custody has nothing to do with where your children live or how they spend their time. If you have legal custody over your children, which you may or may not share with your spouse, it means that you get a say in making important decisions that affect your children, such as those that pertain to health care, education and religion. You can still weigh in on these matters even if you live far away from your children and do not share physical custody of them. It is common for parents to share legal custody of their children even when only one parent has sole physical custody. 

Generally speaking, the presumption of the court is that joint legal custody is in a child’s best interests unless there are special circumstances that indicate otherwise, such as documented incidence of domestic violence in the family’s history. However, joint legal custody is not always possible or desirable. It works best for families in which the parents do not hold grudges against one another, have already shown a willingness to cooperate with one another and who demonstrate healthy communication skills as it relates to co-parenting. However, in situations in which the parents are either unwilling or unable to make compromises with one another, or even to communicate effectively, joint legal custody may not be a viable option. 

Other considerations that may help determine whether you receive joint custody of your children include your reliability as a parent, the quality of your relationship with your children and your personal moral conduct. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.