The expression, “I want “full custody”,” is one of the most frequent requests I hear as a family law attorney from prospective clients. I’m not sure why this expression is so popular, as it is not used by California in defining the types of custody available. There are two types of custody in California; Legal and Physical. Each type of custody can be given jointly or solely to one parent. My assumption is, that when someone says they want full custody that this is a request for sole legal and physical custody with perhaps some visitation for the other parent.
Legal custody is the ability to make decisions for a child in regards to health, schooling, religion and the like. Normally the court awards this jointly to both parents. Under joint legal custody; if the parents cannot resolve a disagreement any other way, they must bring the matter back to court. and if the parents disagree about schooling, medical concerns etc
Sometimes, because one parent lives a great distance away, is incarcerated or normally makes decisions and behaves in a fashion the court finds is antipathetic to the childs interests, the court will award sole legal custody to the other parent.
Physical custody is normally defined as who the child lives with. If one parent has significant periods of custody then physical custody is usually joint. However this is not set in stone and a parent that has significant periods of custody may only be listed on the order as having visitation and conversely a parent listed on the order as having joint physical custody may in fact have limited visitation. The courts tend to go by the actual time the child spends with each parent rather then the “sole” or “label”.