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Child Custody


It is very important that both parents of a child understand what legal and physical custody means.  It is often is confusing for clients to understand the difference between legal and physical custody.



Legal custody refers to any and all decisions a parent makes regarding medical care, education, religion, and best interest or welfare of a minor child



Under California law, “joint legal custodymeans that both parents share in the right and responsibility to make decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child. If you have joint legal custody, then you have to mutually agree and share those decisions with the other parent



Legal custody is typically awarded jointly to both parents so they mutually can make decisions regarding the welfare and best interest of their child.  However, in some rare instances where one parent has been absent for a long time ( not as the result of the wrongful allegations or action of the custodial parent, hiding, refusal to allow visitation, or alienation of the minor child by the custodial parent),  if one parent lacks mental capacity, if one parent is diagnosed with a serious mental disability, unwilling to adequately communicate, and sometimes inability to communicate due to existing domestic violence issues, then the court is willing to award sole legal custody to one parent.

If you have sole legal custody then you are not required to obtain the agreement of the other parent regarding education, medical care, religion or any decisions related to the best interest of the minor child. If you have sole legal custody, you are also able to obtain a passport for the minor child without the requirement other parent’s notarized permission or appearance at the passport agency



Primary physical custody is a term that is often used in child custody orders to denote the parent with whom a child spends or lives the majority of the time with. Court usually refer to parents to be the primary custodial parent when that parent has the minor child during the majority of the time with a right of child visitation to the other parent. In that case, the parent with primary physical custody has also sole physical custody.

California courts refer to sole physical custody as primary physical custody, however parents could have an unequal custodial timeshare with the minor child and also be awarded joint physical custody order from the court



Regards as both parents having custodial timeshare wherein minor child resides with both of the parents. Sometimes the custodial timeshare is equal and in some other instances are an unequal timeshare (40% and 60%)


Parents should come to an agreement on their parenting plan that is practical and convenient for both parents and their children. Courts consider the history of the family in addition to the age of the children and their needs when making orders regarding the custodial time and the schedule. Courts always strive for making orders that will provide for adequate, continuous contact, and involvement of both parents in children lives making decisions as to best interest or welfare of their children.  

It is common that courts equally divide all three-days holidays, religious holidays, birthdays, spring and summer vacations, and special weekends equally between the parents unless the circumstances of each parent, history of the parenting, age of children, or need of the children are not met or the division is not practical for an equal division.  We always urge our clients to make sure that they always comply with the court orders and exercise their awarded visitation time. It is vital that the court order for visitation is not vague and difficult to interpret for enforcement purposes.




Mediation is provided at no cost through the Family Court Services Department, formerly known as Conciliation Court. Mediation gives parents the opportunity to discuss with a neutral mental health professional the best plan for their children. If the parents reach an agreement, the mediator drafts the custody and visitation plan.

The Los Angeles Superior Courts and all other Southern California County Courts require that both parents attend an informal mediation to reach an amicable custody and visitation agreement before the court make any orders of custody and visitation. The parents are not mandated or forced to reach an agreement at the mediation that they do not feel comfortable or in a disagreement because one or both of parents do not believe the custody and visitation arrangements do not serve the best interest of their minor child (ren).   Any time a parent files a family law Petition with custody issues or makes a Request for Orders that involves visitation or custody then both parents need to attend a mediation before the pending court hearing or on the day of the court, upon a court order.

Mediation is most effective when the parents have completed the Our Children First Online Program prior to their mediation appointment. Through the programs, parents learn the importance of focusing on their children’s best interests in developing the custody plan. Family Court Services also offers Child Custody Evaluation services for families who are unable to resolve their custody and visitation disputes.

You may refer to Los Angeles Superior Court Website to obtain any information related to any questions you may have in connection with reaching a  parenting plan, recommended parenting plan for different age groups, scheduling mediation (formally known as Conciliation Court), parenting classes, how mediation works, scheduling a mediation, reaching mediation agreements or cancellations of mediation agreements, children’s participation in mediation, attorneys attendance or availability for mediation, evaluations, and other relevant information regarding mediation and parenting plans.  For more info, click here

The Family Court Services of Los Angeles Superior has provided the public with appropriate resources and information regarding all aspects of family law on their website.


Supervised visitation may be necessary when:


There has been physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of one parent by the other parent


A parent has a substance abuse problem


A parent has an uncontrolled mental illness that poses harm to the child


There is risk of kidnapping or abduction by one of the parents


A parent has neglected the child


A parent has been absent from the child's life and wants to start a relationship with the child


There have been any potentially dangerous family situations

Often, supervised visitation is a temporary arrangement that can lead to unsupervised visitation if the non-custodial parent meets certain requirements. For example, the non-custodial parent may need to have six (6) months of clean drug tests, seek counseling, or complete an anger management class in order to be awarded unsupervised visits.


If the judge decides that supervised visitation is best for your child, the court order will specify how the supervised visits will work.

The judge may order the supervised visits to take place in a designated facility. There will be a monitor present with the non-custodial parent in the room for the duration of the visits.

The judge may assign a social worker or a similar person to accompany the child to the non-custodial parent’s home (or other designated location). The designated monitor will stay with the child for the entire visit and return the child to the custodial parent.

The judge may allow a friend, relative, or an acquaintance to act as the monitor for supervised visits if the participant is willing and the parents are able to mutually agree on a person. If this is an option for you, you will need to consider whether or not the person will be reliable and trustworthy.


In high conflict custody cases and based on the facts or circumstances of each case, the court mandates one or both parent to attend parenting classes or anger management classes to be able to participate appropriately in a parenting plan.  In many cases, the court may even order one parent or both parents to have supervised or monitored visitations. In other instances, the court appoints a minor’s counsel to oversee the minor child’s best interest in the case.


In high conflict custody cases, courts recommend and many attorneys proceed to request an independent child custody evaluation by a mental health professional.

Child Custody Evaluators are mental health professionals with specialized training to provide written or oral reports to the court summarizing information about a family. The evaluator makes a recommendation to the court about custody and visitation plans that would meet the child’s needs. An evaluator is appointed by court order. There are both private and court employed evaluators.

Usually, parents make the arrangements for the care of their children after a divorce or separation. However, if the parents disagree about a plan for their children and either parent has concerns about the care of the children in the home of the other parent, a child custody evaluation may be helpful. The goal of a child custody evaluation is to provide the Court and the parties with objective information and recommendations about the family to assist the Court in issuing orders in highly contested custody disputes. Evaluations may be conducted by Family Court Services staff or by a private mental health practitioner.



Generally involves multiple interviews with your family, an extensive examination of collateral information, and results in a written report. Some evaluators prefer to perform only full evaluations and are not available for brief assessments



Sometimes referred to as a solution-focused evaluation, is generally more limited in scope. The results may be given to the court in a written report or through testimony. You may obtain a list of evaluators who perform brief assessments, in addition to, full evaluations on Lacourt.org

The Los Angeles Superior Court provides the Private Counselor Directory and the Private Child Custody Evaluators Directory as online resources to assist litigants and their attorneys in identifying mental health professionals who have experience in treating and assessing families involved in child custody disputes

We can help with your Child Custody issues