If you were to ask a random person the two main forms of custody in California, they might say sole custody and shared or joint custody. While those are ways for the courts to divide custody when parents separate or divorce, they are not actually the two different forms of custody.
California breaks parental responsibilities into two primary categories, each of which a judge may choose to divide between parents in a pending divorce or custody case.
Parents often focus the most on physical custody
When someone talks about sharing custody with their ex, what they mean is shared physical custody. The parent who has physical custody at any given moment is the one with legal responsibility for that child’s basic needs like food and shelter. The parenting plan you draft during your divorce will likely focus primarily on splitting parenting time or physical custody.
However, there’s also legal custody to consider when dividing parental rights. Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make important decisions on behalf of their child. Having legal custody lets you enroll your child in school, obtain medical care on their behalf and even decide what religion they will follow.
You can share both legal and physical custody with your ex. Sometimes, judges will expect you to share physical custody while giving one parent legal custody to reduce conflict in a co-parenting relationship. Other times, they will want both parents to make major decisions about the children.
Learning about the specifics of California custody rules will help you ask for the best possible terms in court.