What Are the Different Types of Child Custody in California?

Many people assume that child custody refers only to which parent the child will live with after a divorce. But there are two different types of child custody, and it’s essential to understand that before looking into what rights the parent with a history of mental health issues may have.

Physical Child Custody

Physical child custody, also referred to as parenting time, is the part of custody most people are familiar with. It determines where the child lives once the divorce is complete. There are two broad categories of physical child custody in California.

  • Sole physical custody. This involves one parent having the child live with them full-time. In general, California courts try to involve both parents in the child’s life and prefer not to award this type of custody unless it’s clearly in the child’s best interests and safety.
  • Joint physical custody. Each parent has the child living with them at specific times. If it works out, the courts like to see something as close to 50/50 as possible, but will approve different ratios if necessary. For example, if one parent’s job causes them to travel a great deal during the workweek, they may have less time with the child than the parent who doesn’t travel.

Legal Child Custody

This refers not to where the child lives but to how all important decisions related to raising the child are made. These decisions include how the child will be educated, medical care, religious upbringing (if applicable), extracurricular activities, summer camps, etc. It doesn’t refer to the smaller daily decisions, such as what the child will have or if they can play with a friend after school. Those are made by the parent who has physical custody of the child.

  • Sole legal custody. This is usually done only in conjunction with sole physical custody and only when the courts deem it in the child’s best interests to have the other parent as uninvolved in the child’s life as possible, such as in cases of child abuse.
  • Joint legal custody. This means the parents share the responsibility of making the large decisions together. They must agree on large decisions; one can’t make a major decision, such as where the child will go to school, without the other parent agreeing.

If a Parent Has a History of Mental Health Issues, Will They Be Denied Custody of Their Child in a Divorce?

This is a question with a complex answer. In brief, a history of mental health issues may not necessarily disqualify a parent from receiving either physical or legal custody, but they may not be guaranteed to have either type of custody. With every custody case, the courts look at what’s in the child’s best interests. Often, that means having both parents involved in the child’s life through joint legal and physical custody.

However, if the severity of the mental health issues is deemed dangerous to the child in any way, or if it appears the parent’s mental health isn’t sound enough for them to be able to care for the child, the court may find that the other parent should have physical custody. Examples include the mental health issues leading to the parent becoming violent, having to be hospitalized, or being able to provide the basics of daily life, such as food and medical care.

It may be that the parent with mental health issues could be granted supervised visitation for them to be involved in the child’s life. In cases such as those, the supervision is likely to involve another adult, if not the other parent and the visitation may be canceled or put on hiatus if the mental health issues interfere with the child’s best interests.

What Types of Mental Illness Can Affect Child Custody Decisions?

Nearly any type of mental illness can potentially affect child custody decisions, including:

  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse (which often occurs with other mental health disorders)

What Do California Courts Require for Proof of Mental Health Issues?

Usually, the courts will not simply take the word of one spouse that the other has mental health issues and should be disqualified from child custody of any kind. Instead, they’re going to look for proof. That might be medical records showing a doctor’s diagnosis and/or medication prescriptions, papers reporting hospital stays, and similar documentation. Even that often isn’t enough to disqualify the parent unless there are also records documenting any kind of violence or abuse the parent inflicted on the child or other family members. Substance addiction can also be a cause for concern.

If the parent with the mental health history can provide proof that they have recovered (medical records, statements from therapists, or proof of an addiction treatment completed, for example), that might help their cause. If you’re concerned about a history of mental health issues, work with an experienced child custody attorney who can help you understand your options.

What Should I Do if I Need Help with a Child Custody Case When I Have a History of Mental Health Issues?

Call Tomassian, Pimentel & Shapazian as soon as possible at 559-277-7300 to set up a consultation. As discussed above, it’s not a given that you aren’t eligible for custody. But you may benefit from working with our team of experienced, knowledgeable child custody case to bring to the family law court.