Negotiating child custody is one of the most challenging parts of any divorce. Even when a separation is amicable, custody decisions often involve strong emotions and practical complexities. The demands of the legal process can add strain to your relationship with your ex and your children.

No parent should have to navigate this difficult time alone. The Sacramento child custody lawyers at Pakpour Banks LLP understand that parents are often anxious when putting their family’s future in a court’s hands. If you’re worried about navigating custody negotiation, contact our law firm. Our advocates have the skills and compassion to support you at every step of the custody process. Schedule a consultation today to learn how we help reach a positive outcome for your family.

Let’s break down the different types of custody, walk through some legal terms used in custody cases, and explain how family court decides on a co-parenting arrangement.  

What Is the Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody?

California law recognizes two types of parental custody: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal Custody

Legal custody gives a parent the power to make decisions about a child’s health, education, safety, and welfare. A parent with legal custody chooses their child’s school, whether they’ll have a religious upbringing, and what medical care they receive. When a couple is married, both parents have legal custody and equal rights to shape their children’s lives.

Joint legal custody

Joint legal custody gives both parents the rights and responsibilities to make major decisions about a child’s life. This doesn’t mean you have to get your ex’s sign-off on everything your kid does when they’re with you. But it’s essential that you two agree about anything that impacts your child’s health, safety, religion, or education. This includes decisions about living conditions or medical procedures (except in emergency cases). It also means being on the same page about a child’s schooling and religious upbringing.

Sole legal custody

Sole legal custody means that only one parent holds the right to make major decisions in a child’s life. Courts tend to give one spouse sole legal custody when the other is considered “unfit” to parent. This can happen because of:

  • Drug or alcohol dependency,
  • Child abuse,
  • A history of neglect, or
  • A new partner who is violent or an unhealthy influence. 

Any behavior that might pose a danger to a child’s health or well-being can be a reason for a court to award sole legal custody.

Physical Custody

Physical custody determines where the child lives after the divorce. 

Joint physical custody

Joint physical custody means your child splits their time between living with you and your ex. This arrangement is sometimes called “50/50 custody.” But joint physical custody doesn’t always have to be divided equally. It just means that both parents have the right to significant periods of time with their kid. Generally, co-parents need to live fairly close together to make joint physical custody work.

If the two parents both live and work in proximity to a child’s school, they may choose to switch off having custody every week or so. However, the practical details of sharing physical custody depend on each parent’s living situation and schedule.

Parents are understandably eager to have extended face-to-face time with kids. But navigating life across two homes can be stressful for children. When negotiating custody, keep in mind the emotional and practical burden that constant traveling can put on your child. 

Sole physical custody

Sole physical custody means that the child lives primarily with one parent. A court can grant one parent sole physical custody for several reasons. The parents might live in different cities, or one spouse might travel a lot for work and can’t provide consistent supervision. 

If you’re awarded sole physical custody, you’re known as the “custodial parent,” and your ex is the “non-custodial parent.” 

Being a non-custodial parent doesn’t mean you’re not allowed any time with your kids. Non-custodial parents still have a right to visitation, or court-designated periods of parenting time. A common visitation arrangement involves kids spending every other weekend and one evening a week with the non-custodial parent. Holidays and other important family days are typically also divided as part of court-ordered visitation.

In circumstances involving an unfit parent—for example, where a parent has a history of domestic violence or drug use—a court may order limited visitation or even no visitation at all. For example, the court may order only short, non-overnight visits, or it may order that all visitation be supervised.

Who Determines Custody Arrangements?

California family courts handle child custody orders. To get a custody order from a court, you need to be part of a family law case, like divorce proceedings or a parentage action. If you don’t have an open California family law case, you can start one. 

Sometimes, couples going through divorce make their own custody and visitation arrangements. If you and your ex agree on a plan for sharing physical custody and parental rights, you can ask the judge to approve it. However, the strain of divorce often makes collaboration challenging. If agreement isn’t possible, then a judge assesses the situation and makes decisions for you.

In any custody case, the child’s best interest is the priority when making or approving parenting arrangements. Under California family law, judges use a handful of factors to weigh decisions, including: 

  • The child’s health, safety, and welfare;
  • Any history of parental abuse;
  • The type and amount of contact the child has with both parents; and
  • The parents’ drug and alcohol use.

Health, safety, and welfare are the primary concerns in a child custody order. However, other aspects of your family situation can also influence a judge’s decision. Sometimes a child’s strong preferences can factor into deciding arrangements. For example, the parent with a closer emotional bond with the child might be a better fit for primary residential custody.

If you’re worried that a judge might overlook important dynamics during your custody case, it’s important to talk to a family lawyer attorney in Sacramento. A skilled Sacramento child custody attorney can help ensure that a court hears your story in full. 

Brian Pakpour: Attorney, Father, and Family Advocate

For Brian Pakpour, practicing family law is more than a job: it’s a personal commitment. As a father, Brian knows firsthand the high stakes involved in any child custody case. That’s why he’s dedicated the past decade to delivering the families of Sacramento trusted, top-quality legal representation for whatever challenges life brings.

As a certified family law specialist, Brian has years of experience in a range of family disputes, from divorce to domestic violence. But what sets Brian Pakpour apart from other Sacramento child custody lawyers isn’t just his deep knowledge of the law. It’s the dedication and compassion he brings to all aspects of family advocacy.

Keith Banks: Skilled Legal Support for Sacramento Families

Keith Banks draws on extensive legal experience to provide strategic, individualized representation for his family law clients. During his years of service in Yolo County and Sacramento courts, he guided petitioners through the complexities of the legal process and gained insight into the nuances of judicial decision-making.

After honing his skills as an advocate in public service, Keith turned his attention to family law. He uses his wide-ranging knowledge of California law and procedures to ease the emotional burden that disputes have on families and to fight for efficient, positive resolutions.

Strategic and Compassionate Representation You Deserve

It’s not difficult to find a child custody lawyer in Sacramento. What is difficult? Finding an advocate who can deliver the personalized, compassionate support that leads to positive outcomes. At Pakpour Banks LLP, we understand the complexities of custody cases and the emotional toll they can take on parents and children. Our attorneys are knowledgeable, empathetic, and responsive to your family’s unique needs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.