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How do California courts determine custody in a divorce?

When you're headed toward a divorce, the necessity of that process may be the only thing you and your spouse can agree on. You may both have different expectations for the asset division process and different desires for the parenting or custody arrangements for your children. If you're both seeking primary physical custody, the courts will end up making key decisions about parenting.

There are a lot of questions parents have when headed toward a contentious custody battle with a spouse. One of the most common and most important is, "How do the courts determine custody arrangements?" While every family and divorce is unique, there are certain rules and standards that can help you predict the most likely outcome to your pending divorce.

The courts care about the impact on children

For some couples, the custody battle becomes a clash of egos, more about beating the other parent than doing the best thing for the kids. That's why the courts will take time to carefully consider the situation when parents don't agree on terms for custody. The courts will seek to create arrangements that are in the best interest of the children.

Typically, the courts look at a number of factors when establishing the best interests of the children. They will look at current living and parenting arrangements, income and standard of living expectations, the health, engagement and income of each parent, and potentially the wishes of the children if they are over the age of 12. Safety is also a concern if there are allegations of abuse. The courts generally want to uphold the relationships of each parent with the children without placing the children in harm's way.

Shared custody and co-parenting is a likely outcome

If there isn't documentation of abuse or parental attempts at undermining the children's relationship with the other parent, the courts are likely to order shared or joint custody. The most common scenario is fully shared physical custody, as well as shared decision-making authority.

The details of exactly how custody will get split varies depending on circumstances, but this is the most common and fair outcome to contested custody matters. Although the order may be 50/50 shared custody, one parent may end up having more time with the children than the other.

In joint custody arrangements, both parents have a chance to spend weekends, evenings and holidays with the children. They are both empowered to make important medical and educational decisions as well. Ideally, the parents can start working together for the children's sake after divorce, sharing information and opinions before making critical decisions. Co-parenting can be a difficult process, but it is definitely good for the children to have ongoing and positive relationships with both of their parents after a divorce.

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