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Every state is different when it comes to divorce and child custody laws, and California is no exception. When a couple divorces, there is property to split, debt to divide and children who are facing tumult in their lives. Many couples have a hard time with divorce when they do not understand the basic legal terms that are used when it comes to child custody.

There are two types of custody, according to the California Courts: physical and legal. Parents may share custody, or one parent may be given full custody of the child. The final decisions about custody and visitation are made by a judge but typically both parents will agree on a parenting plan before any decisions are made and the couple has met with a Family Court Services mediator.

Those with legal custody of their children make decisions related to topics like welfare, education and health care. This may also include all visits to health care professionals, child care or schools, travel, residence, religious institutions or activities and extracurricular activities.

Physical custody may be sole, primary or joint. In joint custody, the child lives with both parents. When a parent has sole or primary custody, the child will live with them most of the time but visit the other parent on a regular basis. Parents can be denied joint physical custody even as they are given joint legal custody. This means both parents are involved in making decisions for the children, but the child spends most of their time with the parent with physical custody.

Divorce can be a stressful, tumultuous time for both parents and children. Having a parenting plan in place before starting divorce proceedings may help to limit the negative effects on children.