You may recall a few years ago when pop singer Brittany Spears refused to hand over her two children to their father Kevin Federline. The couple had divorced in 2006 and Federline had been granted temporary custody of the boys. Spears had the boys at her home on visitation, but wouldn’t hand over the children to their father’s bodyguard as scheduled at 7 p.m.
A four-hour standoff ensued at the pop star’s Beverly Hills home. She was arrested and taken away on a stretcher from her home to the hospital for evaluation. Spears lost her custody rights after the incident when the judge granted Sole Custody to her ex-husband. She also temporarily lost visitation rights to the boys, Sean Preston, 2, and one-year-old Jayden James.
The situation with Spears is not unlike many that play out among divorced couples in California. A judge may decide that one parent is unstable or incapable of sharing joint physical custody of the couple’s children. If that is the case, the courts may grant Sole Physical Custody to the other parent.
Joint Custody, Sole Custody, and Shared Custody
Indeed, there’s not always a happy ending to a marriage, but that doesn’t mean that the couple’s children should get caught up in the tug-o-war between them after the divorce. The courts will always do what’s in the best interest of the children, not the parents.
Most couples end a marriage because they have irreconcilable differences. Typically, someone has cheated, they no longer love each other or they fight all the time. But parents should consider getting along with their former spouse if they don’t want the courts to make important decisions for them.
What is Legal Custody?
Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions for the kids. These decisions include medical care, education, travel, religious commitments, and other activities.
Nothing is more important to a parent than their children. That’s why the courts will generally grant Joint Legal Custody (Cal. Fam. Code. § 3003) to both parents.
If parents cannot put their differences aside and agree to work out a plan between them, the courts will step in and determine what they believe is best for the children.
In some cases, the courts will grant legal custody to one parent or Sole Legal Custody (Cal. Fam. Code § 3006). This means that only one parent makes important decisions on behalf of their child and the other parent has no legal input.
Parents must understand that legal custody is not the same as physical custody. When it comes to the children, there are often disagreements between parents about living arrangements, especially if one parent has a new partner. The physical custody of the children may become one of many legal battles between parents.
Physical custody determines what percentage of time each parent spends with the children. In California, most courts will grant each parent 50 percent of the children’s time. This way they have equal shared custody or time with their children.
The legal term for this is Joint Physical Custody (Cal. Fam. Code § 3004). It doesn’t matter whether it’s an even split or something less than that, joint physical custody provides significant time for each parent with the children.
Of course, in the real world, it may not be feasible for both parents to share equal time with the children. For example, parents may live far away from each other or in a different state. One parent may have a job that makes it difficult to care for the children or takes them out of town for long periods of time.
If that is the case, the court may grant Primary Physical Custody to one parent. This happens when joint physical custody has been granted, but the children do not spend equal time with each parent due to work obligations. The parent who spends more than half the time with the child is deemed the “primary physical custodial” parent.
Sole Physical Custody (Cal. Fam. Code § 3007) is when the court orders the children to live with one parent exclusively. The other parent, however, may still have some visitation rights with the children.
If that is the case, the other parent would be granted visitation privileges. This visitation could be scheduled in advance by the courts or it could be left to the parents to work out between themselves. In some cases, the courts may order supervised visitation if the parent is unstable or is a risk to the child. The worst-case scenario for a parent is to be denied any visitation due to a risk of physical or emotional harm to the child.
Visitation — The parent who gets less than half of the children’s time is awarded visitation. The judge will grant a visitation order that allows this parent permission to spend time with their children. It will depend on what’s in the best interest of the children and will take into account the relationship between the two parents.
Scheduled Visitation –Many families find it easiest to have scheduled visitation so that they can decide in advance who spends which holidays with the children and what times and days they will be caring for their children.
Reasonable Visitation — A reasonable visitation order, on the other hand, is open-ended so that the parents can work out a schedule that is more flexible for them. This only works if the parents have a good post-divorce relationship because if there are misunderstandings and disagreements it can cause irreparable harm.
Supervised Visitation — Under supervised visitation, the child is not left alone with a parent. This is ordered when the child’s safety and well-being are at risk. The supervision can be conducted by the parent who has custody, a professional agency or another adult.
No Visitation — Finally, sometimes the courts order no visitation at all. If this is ordered, it’s usually because there’s a risk of physical or emotional harm to the children.
Most parents want the best for their children, but even the best parents may disagree on how to raise them even if they are not divorcing. If you are going through a divorce and have children, it’s time to consider all your options and work out what is best for your family.
Family Law Lawyer
Johnson Attorneys Group is on your side. We will work to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your children. We understand that the legal process is complicated and we are here to explain how everything works. There’s no more important decision in your life than your child’s wellbeing and we know your time with them is valuable. Put your mind at ease and contact us for a free consultation at 800-235-6801. We will answer all your questions so that you can take steps to protect your children’s future.