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Co-parenting in California: Joint Custody Tips for Divorced Parents

Custody and Visitation Rights

In California, custody and visitation decisions are made by the courts with the best interests of the child in mind. Under the California Code of Civil Procedure (§4600), when a couple divorces or separates, their children must remain living with one of the spouses. Custody of a child can be divided into two types: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make decisions about the child's overall welfare, such as decisions about education, health care, and religious upbringing. Physical custody refers to the parent or guardian with whom the child will reside. In California, unmarried parents also have the right to petition the court for a custody order. The court will consider factors such as the age of the child, what kind of relationship the parents have with the child, and the wishes of the child. The court may also consider factors such as a parent's ability to provide a stable home and the ability of each parent to care for the child (Family Code § 3048).  

A court can modify the custody order if one of the parents is found to be engaged in the parental alienation.


California's custody laws for unmarried parents prioritize the child's best interests while recognizing the distinct legal situations compared to married couples. By default, unwed mothers automatically gain full legal and physical custody of their children upon birth. Unwed fathers, however, must establish legal paternity either through a signed Declaration of Paternity or a court order to gain any custody rights. Once paternity is established, both parents can petition the court for a custody arrangement. The court prioritizes joint custody arrangements when feasible, aiming to create a schedule that provides consistent and stable care for the child. This could include alternating weekends, weekly overnights, extended summer visits, or other tailored arrangements. Unmarried fathers also have the right to seek child support and participate in major decisions regarding their child's upbringing, contributing to a balanced and co-parenting environment.


California also has provisions for grandparent custody and visitation rights. However, these provisions do not diminish the parental rights of a biological parent.


Child Support and Co-parenting Expenses

When figuring out a custody arrangement and deciding which parent will have primary physical custody, the court will also consider each parent's financial resources and ability to provide for the child. In California, both parents are obligated to financially support the child, regardless of whether they have physical custody (Family Code § 3900). In California, child support is determined by the court using guidelines that take several factors into account, including each parent's earnings and other income, the amount of time each parent has physical custody of the child, the health care and other expenses related to the child, and any other relevant information put forward by either parent. In some cases, both parents may be required to contribute to the child's day-to-day expenses, such as extracurricular activities, medical costs, and educational material (Family Code § 4055). This is known as co-parenting expenses.


Parental Rights, Decisions and Parenting Plans

In California, both parents have legal rights concerning their children, including the right to make decisions regarding the child's education, health care, and welfare. These decisions should be made in accordance with the parenting plan, if one has been established. A parenting plan is a document that outlines a set of agreements between the parents regarding the guardianship and care of their child. The plan may include decisions about where and with whom the child will live, how holidays and vacations will be handled, how child support will be paid, and how decisions about the child's school, medical care and religious upbringing should be made.


Mediation as an Option for Co-parenting

In California, mediation can often be a helpful tool for resolving disputes related to co-parenting. In mediation, both parents meet with an impartial, third-party mediator to discuss issues related to parenting, custody, visitation, and child support. The primary aim is to create an agreed-upon parenting plan that both parents can accept. The mediator helps facilitate discussion, encourages understanding between the parents, and assists in coming to an agreement on any disputed matters. Mediation can be used to resolve existing disputes or to prevent potential disputes from arising in the future. Mediation is voluntary, and either parent can choose to end mediation at any time if they feel that it is not helping. In California, the court may order parents to attend mediation before making a decision on custody or visitation issues.



Co-parenting in California can be a complex process, with numerous considerations and nuances to take into account when making decisions about custody and visitation rights. It is important that parents understand their rights and obligations with regards to their child, and the laws and regulations put in place by the state of California. Mediation can often be a helpful tool for settling disputes related to co-parenting and creating a parenting plan that is both agreeable and workable for both parties.


Fact Check and Resources

In crafting this post, we conducted thorough fact-checking and research, consulting the following sources:



Co-parenting in USA


Co-parenting in Canada




Warning:  This post is neither financial, health, legal, or personal advice nor a substitute for the advice offered by a professional. These are serious matters, and the help of a professional is recommended as it can impact your future.

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