Santa Barbara Divorce Attorney & Family Law Lawyer


(805) 879-7523

How Does Santa Barbara, California Determine Child Custody?

Oct 18, 2022 | Domestic Violence

Child custody is one of the more delicate areas of family law practice, and it can be extremely stressful for the children involved. Fortunately, the state courts in California prioritize the welfare of the child over either parent’s wishes, meaning that the influence of the parents on the final decision of who gets granted custodial guardianship is up to the judgment of the courts. The child custody process may seem daunting, especially for parents worried about losing custody, but with a sound case, you can properly advocate for yourself in these hearings.

What Is Child Custody?

Child custody is the process of determining a child’s legal guardian between two parents who are not living together. In most scenarios, these decisions are made after a divorce, where parents with a shared child are separated and the primary caregiver of that child must be decided, but two parents do not need to be together to determine custody. In California, any parent may have primary custody, or both parents may share primary custody. Although the judge has the final say about custody and visitation, they will typically accept the parenting plan that both parents have agreed upon. If the parents cannot agree, the judge will decide at a court hearing. A mediator from Family Court Services will typically meet with the parents before the judge decides on custody and visitation.

Does Relationship Status or Gender Determine Child Custody?

The fact that you were or are married has little bearing on who gets custody. There are not many legal disparities between married and single parents when it comes to child custody and visitation orders if paternity can be proven. The court must base child custody and visitation decisions on what is best for the child, which is a wide-ranging criterion. In terms of gender, the courts no longer automatically award custody to one parent over the other based on gender. The law does not automatically award mothers or fathers custody of girls or sons.

Is There a Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody?

The differences between legal and physical custody may seem cut and dry, but the intricacies of both are crucial to understanding the law before heading to court. The main differences between legal and physical custody include:

  • Legal Custody: Legal custody of a shared child gives a parent the power to decide crucial matters for their offspring. These choices may relate to healthcare, education, or other aspects of welfare. Joint legal custody parents do not have to agree on every choice affecting their child’s upbringing, although it is encouraged that they cooperate as much as possible to keep the matter out of court.
  • Physical Custody: Joint physical custody is sometimes thought to imply an equal division of parenting time between the parents. However, this is not always the case. Due to job schedules, school hours, and other aspects of daily life, it can be unrealistic for parents to divide their time with their children equally. Legally speaking, visitation is when a parent has physical custody of their children for less than half the time.

Each child custody case is different, and determining the best course of action for your case may vary based on your relationship with your child’s other parent. If you are named the primary guardian in a child custody case, you have been deemed the primary caretaker of that child, which is a serious undertaking. By understanding these responsibilities, you can assume your role and efficiently co-parent your child with their other parent.


Q: What Do Judges Look for in Child Custody Cases in California?

A: According to the law, judges must award custody based on what is in the child’s “best interest.” The child’s age, health, emotional links to his or her parents, parental capacity to care for the child, any history of domestic abuse or substance misuse, and the child’s ties to their school, home, and community will all be considered by the court when determining child custody.

Q: What Determines Child Custody in California?

A: In California, a parent may have primary custody, or both parents may share primary custody. Although the judge has the final say about custody and visitation, they will typically accept the parenting plan that both parents have previously agreed upon. If the parents cannot agree, the judge will decide at a court hearing. Usually, the parents and a mediator from Family Court Services will meet before the judge makes a decision about custody and visitation.

Q: What Do Judges Look for in Child Custody Cases?

A: When deciding a custody case, judges are predominantly focused on how to best support the child in a custody agreement. They examine the relationships between parents and their children, as well as more logistical factors like schooling and parenting ability, to create a fully formed decision. After close analysis, the parent best suited to be the custodial caretaker of their child is determined.

Q: What Are Two Criteria Courts Use to Determine Custody of a Child?

A: The most significant factors tied to child custody arrangements are parenting ability and the welfare of the child. Factors like income, job stability, proper housing, and the overall ability to parent a child are crucial for the courts to understand when making custody decisions. The courts are tasked with working to benefit the child over all others in their situation, which ultimately leads to a custody decision.

Finding a Lawyer for Child Custody Questions

For some, a final child custody declaration may seem unchallengeable, leaving you feeling left out of your child’s life. Fortunately, California lets parents reopen a child custody decision at any time, and with ample evidence, they can even begin to change the terms of that order to reflect new developments in their case. At Drury Pullen Law, our family law attorneys are well-versed in child custody cases and can help you build your case for primary custody, either starting out or after a previous court order. For more information on our firm, visit our website and contact us today about your child custody case.

Subscribe to Our Blog


What Is Considered a High-Asset Divorce in Santa Barbara?

The decision to end a marriage and file for divorce is difficult and emotionally devastating. It can overwhelm many people who wonder how they will care for themselves and their families in the wake of potential financial disputes. When a divorcing couple has a large...

Dividing a Business in a Santa Barbara Divorce

Divorce is a complex and arduous process, especially if the couple owns a business together. Santa Barbara business division takes time to complete, and you may find yourself struggling to understand the small intricacies. California is a community property state,...

What If Mediation Fails in Divorce?

Marriage is a significant commitment, but it does not always work out in the long term. Despite trying to make a lasting relationship, many people find themselves facing a divorce. If the end of the marriage was difficult, then the process of dividing assets,...

Are Dating Violence and Domestic Violence the Same Thing?

It’s not always easy to tell when a relationship is unhealthy or abusive. Many people don’t even realize they’re in an abusive relationship until it’s too late. Domestic violence and dating violence are two types of abuse that can occur in any relationship, whether...

Is Divorce Mediation Successful?

No one wants to face the prospect of a divorce, but unfortunately, sometimes it’s necessary and the best resolution for all parties involved. However, some couples feel there is hope for their relationship if they can sit down and hash contentious issues out with the...

Practice the Pause

If you are co-parenting during or after a divorce, practicing "the pause" can help you stay out of trouble and maintain a good co-parenting relationship with the other parent. Too many times parents quarrel unnecessarily or make demands without thinking it through. We...