Chase, Berenstein and Murray, Counselors at Law provides collaborative divorce solutions to clients in San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.

Common Divorce Questions: How is Child Custody and Child Support Determined?


In the state of California, the child custody presumption is that parents will share joint custody. This includes legal custody, which determines who gets to make decisions regarding welfare, health, and education for the children. It is important to note that in many instances, the court will grant joint legal custody since the State wants each parent to be involved in their child’s health, educational, and welfare matters. The presumption also applies to physical custody. The presumption of joint legal and physical custody can be rebutted based upon the particular situation of your family. If this happens than one parent might have sole legal or physical custody, and the other parent has a visitation schedule.

How Physical Custody Works When You Have Joint Custody

When you have joint physical custody, there’s a schedule that determines when each of you will have your children with you. You will be responsible for the children during your time. If you are not going to be able to do this, you should reach out to the other parent to see if they can take over this time. If that is not possible, for whatever reason, you are responsible for finding appropriate care.

It is also important to keep all parties who have joint legal custody informed since they have a voice in any major decisions involving the children. This means that you cannot move them to a different school, change doctors or anything like this without the other parent being a part of the discussion.

Serving the Best Interest of the Child

The standard for deciding how custody and time are spent with the child is to determine what would be in the “best interest of the child”. Every family is different, each child is different, the circumstance of their situation is different. There is no one-size-fits-all custody schedule. The law wants contact between a child and their parents to be safe and appropriate. Barring that there are no extreme reasons to avoid it, parents and children should have an ongoing relationship.

Younger children will likely to have shorter, yet more frequent visits with each parent. Older children tend to have visits for longer periods of time, for example up to a week on/week off type of schedule for teenagers. Under California case law, to be joint physical custodian of a child you must have at least a 35% timeshare plan with that child.

Understanding Child Support

California has a Statewide Child Support Guideline. Child support in California is primarily based on the time spent with the children and the income of each parent. Computer programs are used to calculate the guideline child support amount, which makes it extremely important that you are careful with the numbers that are input into the program.

Parents can agree to a child support amount that is different than guideline. However, it is important to have an amicable relationship while you are getting a divorce and after in order to agree upon a different amount and for that agreement to be honored. A mediator or Collaborative Divorce team can help you with this process.

For assistance with any aspect of child custody or child support, contact us at Chase, Berenstein, and Murray, Counselors at Law.