When parents go through a divorce, one of the most difficult things is deciding on child custody. Although it used to be common that the mother got main custody, things have changed, and now the court considers a variety of factors when determining custody and visitation rights. 

Whether parents come to an agreement, or the court makes an order, the main things considered are what is best for the child. 

Basics of child custody

According to the California Courts, there is physical custody and legal custody, as well as sole or joint custody. Physical refers to who the child lives with and legal refers to which parent makes decisions regarding education, religion and medical care. 

Parents can make an agreement together, but if they are unable to the court will decide. Even if parents make an agreement, they may want to get it approved by a judge so that it is legally enforceable in the event one parent violates the agreement. 

If one parent has sole custody, the other parent has visitation. This may include a detailed or open-ended schedule. 

Best interests considerations

No matter who makes the decision regarding custody, the Child Welfare Information Gateway outlines factors that come into play when considering the best interests of the child. Along with the ability of each parent to provide a safe and loving home, other factors include: 

  • The physical and mental health of each parent and child 
  • Age and needs of the child 
  • Current relationship between child and each parent 
  • The importance of maintaining bonds with siblings or other family members 
  • Presence of domestic violence, abuse or addiction in the home 

In many cases, joint custody is better for a child, and this tends to be a common order as long as both parents are able and willing to share custody.