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How is child custody decided in California?

For parents going through a divorce, there is a fear they will lose some of their relationship with their children as time becomes divided between parents. They may be especially worried that they may not receive custody of their child. How are custody decisions made in California, and how do they affect the children's relationships with their parents?

Under California law, there is a presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of minor children when the parents have agreed to joint custody or agree in a court hearing to determine custody. This is, of course, subject to the burden of proof and the law considers abuse, neglect or other factors.

What are "best interests?"

"Best interests" means that all custody and visitation decisions are made with the goal of encouraging the child's happiness, security, mental health and emotional development. In most cases, this is usually a child custody agreement that allows the child to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents.

Courts will use the best interests of the children to determine joint physical and joint legal custody of the child. While a judge may decide it is in the children's best interests to have one parent be solely assigned physical custody, they may still order both parents to share legal custody to make parenting decisions together. The court may also decide that shared physical and legal custody is best. 

Parents who are looking to work together on a joint custody plan the fosters strong relationships between the children and each parent can discuss their options with a family law attorney experienced in helping divorcing couples collaborate together. Mediation and other options can keep the children's lives as normal as possible and continue strong bonds between parents and children after the divorce.

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