Can you create your own custody agreement in California?
If you are a parent going through a divorce or splitting with a long-term partner, your biggest concern is probably protecting the relationship you have with your children. If your split is amicable, you may be hoping to create your own custody agreement, rather than leaving such an important matter up to a judge. In many cases, the court will allow you to do this.
Understanding California custody laws
Your first step is to understand how child custody works. There are two types of custody in California:
- Legal custody – This is the right to make important decisions about a child’s well-being, such as education and healthcare. In sole legal custody, only one parent has this right. In joint legal custody, both parents share this right.
- Physical custody- This refers to where the children live and can also be joint or sole custody. Most children spend some time with each parent, even if it is not evenly split. The parent who has the child most of the time is referred to as the custodial parent. Even if a parent does not have physical custody, the court often grants them visitation rights.
The courts do not assume that either the mother or the father should have custody. Nor does it matter if you were never married.
Agreeing on a parenting plan that will work
The courts will often approve a custody arrangement that both of you have signed off on. Your attorneys can help you draft a workable parenting plan agreement that can be binding. Many people find that mediation is a helpful way to go through this process.
A detailed plan centered around your child’s needs works best. Your attorneys will advise you regarding items you must include, but you should also consider the following:
- How can you best meet your child’s basic needs for health and well-being?
- What schedule will work best for a stable, consistent and reliable routine for your child?
- Does the plan allow a loving and supported relationship with both parents?
- Does the plan allow for flexibility and a respectful way to settle disagreements?
Factors considered under California law
If it turns out you simply cannot agree on a plan, a court will decide your custody issue. In California, the courts use several factors to determine what is in the best interest of the child, such as the child’s age, emotional connection to each parent and whether either parent has a history of substance abuse or family violence, just to name a few.
Note that custody orders reflect the best interest of a child at the time of the order. Circumstances change and the order may need to change with it. You can ask for a modification if you, your ex or your child has a significant change of circumstances.