Child Custody Rights for Mothers in California

By Christine Funk, J.D.

Child Custody Rights for Mothers in California

By Christine Funk, J.D.

When it comes to child custody rights in California, courts do not prefer either parent on the basis of gender. Instead, they look at the lifestyle the child might have in each parent's care to make decisions about which type of custody the parents should have. To better know what goes into the court's decision, it is important to understand the two types of child custody that apply to children of divorced or single parents. These include legal and physical custody, and each type has a very different role in a child's life.

Woman talking on phone and using her laptop while sitting next to her son

Legal Custody

Parents may enjoy joint or sole legal custody of their children. When a person has sole legal custody of a child, that parent alone makes the important decisions about the child's education, health, and welfare. When parents have joint legal custody, they share the rights and responsibilities that come with making decisions about the child's education, health, and welfare. These decisions may include:

  • Where a child attends day care
  • Where a child attends school
  • The type of religious instruction the child receives
  • The child's place of worship, if any
  • Decisions about mental health counseling, including the selection of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health care professionals
  • Selecting the child's pediatrician, dentist, or orthodontist
  • Choosing a summer camp, participation in sports on school or traveling teams
  • Selecting other extracurricular activities
  • Determining where the child will live

Obviously, joint custody is easier for parents who can communicate with each other. It is not essential that both parents are on exactly the same page as to every issue. However, couples that can agree or compromise on certain issues are more likely to stay out of court to litigate the decisions listed above and other similar decisions.

Physical Custody

Like legal custody, physical custody can be either sole or joint physical custody. If a mother has sole physical custody, this may refer to the fact the child's father is not involved in the child's life. However, it could also indicate that the child lives with the mother most of the time and sees their father on a less frequent basis.

Joint physical custody suggests a more equal distribution of parenting time between the parents. Obviously, one cannot ensure an exactly equal distribution of parenting time. However, when children split their time relatively equally between the parents, joint physical custody is in place.

Custody Variations and How Judges Make Custody Determinations

Variations on these types of custody lead to several potential options for child custody depending on the parent's situation. For example, a mom in California who is divorced or a single parent has one of four different types of custody rights:

  • Joint legal and joint physical custody
  • Joint legal and sole physical custody
  • Sole legal and joint physical custody
  • Sole legal and sole physical custody

In California, a court makes decisions about which type of custody is most appropriate based on what is best for the child. The court considers a number of different factors, including:

  • The age of the child
  • The child's health
  • Emotional ties the child has with each parent
  • A parent's ability to care for the child
  • Either parent's history of family violence
  • Either parent's history of substance abuse
  • The ties the child has to their school, home, extended family, and broader community

Courts do not give a preference to a parent because they are either the mother or the father. Instead, they look at the lifestyles the child would have with each parent and make decisions about joint or sole legal and physical custody based on all the evidence. Of course, if the parents can come up with an agreed-upon settlement regarding physical and legal custody of the children, courts typically follow that agreement.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.