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Types of Custody / Visitation Orders

Custody of Children

Legal Custody:
Legal custody determines who makes decisions about the child's or children's health, education, and welfare. Joint legal custody means both parents share the right and responsibility to make these decisions together. Sole legal custody means one parent has the right and responsibility to make these decisions. Cal. Fam Code §3003, 3006.
Physical Custody & Visitation:
Physical custody determines where the child(ren) primarily live. Joint physical custody is when the child(ren) spend significant time in both parents’ homes. Sole physical custody is when the child(ren) live mainly with one parent. Visitation, or parenting time, is the schedule that says when the child(ren) will be with each parent. Parenting time should be specific in order to avoid potential conflicts and eliminate confusion. When making a parenting time schedule, it is important to detail which days or weeks of the month the child(ren) will be with each parent. For example, if a parent will care for the child(ren) every other weekend, the parenting time should include the weekend the parenting time starts. Example: “Starting on Friday, March 2, 2018, Father shall care for the children every other weekend from 6:00pm on Friday until 6:00pm on Sunday”).

Supervised Visitation of Children

Supervised Visitation:
This option is used when the child's or children's safety and well-being require that visits with a parent be supervised by another responsible adult or a professional visitation supervisor.
No Visitation:
This option is used in extreme situations in which contact with the parent would be physically or emotionally harmful to the child.

Residential Requirements

If you do not have a case for custody and visitation filed in any court, you may file in Contra Costa County only if the child has resided in California for the past six months and currently resides in Contra Costa County. If a custody case has already been filed in another state or county, contact that court for information about modifying the orders or moving the case to Contra Costa County.

Before considering any of these actions, it is recommended that you seek legal advice regarding this very technical area of the law.

Married Parents - Custody / Visitation Orders

Married parents who wish to obtain custody or visitation orders must first open a family law case, usually for dissolution of marriage (divorce). Married parents who do not wish to file for divorce, may also obtain custody orders in a legal separation or nullity case.

If you are married to the other parent and are not ready, or do not want, to file for divorce, legal separation, or nullity but do need an order for child custody, visitation and/or child support, you may open a “Petition for Custody and Support of the Minor Children.” Be aware that in a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor the Minor Children case the judge can only make orders about custody, visitation and child support. If you later decide you want a divorce, legal separation or an annulment (nullity), you will have to file a new case and pay another filing fee.

The family court cannot make custody and visitation orders until a family law case has been filed.

Unmarried Parents - Custody / Visitation Orders

Unmarried parents who want to get custody or visitation orders must first open a family law case, and, if parentage has not been legally established, must first establish legal parentage of the child(ren). This is done by filing a parentage case under the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA). The family court cannot make custody and visitation orders until a family law case has been filed.

In a small number of cases another county or state has already made orders establishing parentage but did not make any orders about custody or visitation. If the child(ren) now reside in Contra Costa County (see “Residential Requirements” above), you may open a case using the “Petition for Custody and Support of the Minor Children” in this limited circumstance.

Custody and Visitation By Agreement

If both parents are in agreement on custody and visitation (parenting time), you may be able to obtain a court order without attending a hearing. You must have an open case appropriate for custody in the Contra Costa Superior Court. If you do not have a case yet, or are not sure if the case you do have can be used, review the information on this page about the types of cases that can be used to obtain child custody and visitation orders.

If you have an open case for custody and an agreement on custody & visitation, click * here *. for the paperwork and instructions to make your agreement a court order.

If you are not sure whether you have an open case you can use to file your custody and visitation agreement, you may get assistance from the Family Law Facilitator’s office * here *.

Orders - Requesting Court Orders

To request a hearing to establish or modify child custody or visitation, you must file a Request for Order. You may file the Request for Order in an appropriate case that is already open or at the same time you file the documents to open an appropriate case.

If you and the other parent do not agree on what the custody and visitation orders should be, you need to go to mediation with Family Court Services before the judge can make any long-term orders in your case. California law requires mediation when the parents have asked the judge to make a decision about custody and visitation.

Family Court Services or "Mediation"

For custody mediation or evaluation information, please see Family Court Services..

Temporary Emergency (Ex Parte) Custody & Visitation Orders

In limited situations, where there is an emergency, the judge may grant a temporary emergency order to be in effect only until a hearing can be held. A temporary emergency order is only issued when necessary to prevent an immediate danger or irreparable harm that is likely to happen if an order is not made before the hearing.

To ask for a temporary emergency order, you must give the other party or parties notice that you are requesting a temporary emergency order(s). Notice must be given by 10:00 a.m. on the court day before you plan to turn in your documents to the court. Notice must be given in person, by mail or by fax by giving the other party an exact copy of the documents you plan to turn in to the court (giving notice by facsimile or mail will cause a delay before the judge can consider the request.) You also must tell the other party the date, time, and place where you will turn in your documents. If an attorney represents the other party, the notice must be given to that attorney. The other party can turn in a response objecting to the temporary emergency order(s) you are requesting.

Requests for temporary emergency orders and any response turned in on time will be reviewed by the judge assigned to the case for all purposes. The judge will decide whether or not to grant temporary emergency orders until the hearing. A hearing will be scheduled for a future date whether or not the judge grants the request for temporary orders.

Notice must be given in all cases unless it is established that there will be an immediate threat of danger or harm if the notice is given. This can be established only in rare cases. It is the general policy of family law courts that judges do not make temporary orders unless both sides have the opportunity to be heard.

Find more information about Temporary Emergency (Ex Parte) Orders * here *.