California law provides for two types of child custody and several types of visitation schedules. The term "custody" encompasses both legal custody, which refers to decision-making authority, as well as physical custody, which describes where the child will reside. Legal custody can be either shared or solely held by one parent, who then is able to make all decisions on behalf of the child in regards to education, medication, counseling and religion. Courts grant sole legal custody to one parent in cases in which the parents are unable to communicate with one another in the best interests of the child.
Courts sometimes award joint physical custody where the child lives with both of the parents for part of the time. Joint physical custody means shared custody in some form, regardless of whether one parent is awarded more time than the other. Sole physical custody in which the child primarily lives with one parent is also sometimes granted.
Visitation orders allow for the time when children will visit the non-custodial parent. The resulting orders can be made according to a set schedule, or they can be for reasonable visitation. Reasonable visitation, while not having specific scheduling, allows the parents to decide themselves when visitation will occur. A reasonable visitation plan is sometimes appropriate for parents who are able to communicate and get along well with each other. Finally, supervised or even no visitation will be ordered if one parent cannot provide a safe environment.
Custody and visitation decisions are complex and can sometimes become contentious. As it is often in the best interests of the child to have the parents reach a decision on these matters without court intervention, a family law attorney can assist a client in negotiating agreements for custody and parenting time.
Source: California Courts, "Basics of Custody & Visitation Orders", September 28, 2014