What is Child Custody and When Does it End?

Posted by Christopher J. Sunnen, Esq., CFLS | Aug 29, 2023 | 0 Comments

A "custodian" is a person who "guards or protects" someone else. In a court of law, child custody means the appointing of one or more persons to take care of and control a child under the age of 18 years.

In the State of California, there are several types of child custody:

  • Physical custody means who the child lives with most of the time;
  • Legal custody means who has the right and responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of the child.

The physical and legal custody of the child may be "sole" or "joint."

  • Sole physical custody means that the child will live with and be under the supervision of one parent. (The court may order that the other parent has some rights to visit the child.)
  • Joint physical custody means that each of the parents will have significant periods of physical custody.
  • Sole legal custody means that one parent will have the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child.
  • Joint legal custody means that both parents will share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child.

In general, after parents separate, it is considered best if the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents and that both parents share the rights and responsibilities of raising their child.

When Does Court-Ordered Child Custody End?

Court-ordered child custody usually ends when:

  • the child turns 18 years of age,
  • the child gets married or joins the military;
  • the court ends the support or custody; or
  • the child dies before the age of 18;

whichever occurs first.

In California, on a person's 18th birthday, he or she has reached the "age of majority" and is considered an adult. From that date, the laws of child custody no longer apply.

About the Author

Christopher J. Sunnen, Esq., CFLS

Mr. Sunnen has been practicing law since 2007 and is a Certified Family Law Specialist who also serves as Minor's Counsel for children involved in high conflict custody cases. As a member of the State Bar of California, the San Diego County Bar Association, Christopher J. Sunnen is highly regarded as top of his field. From 2021 - 2023, he was selected as the Face of Divorce Law by San Diego Magazine and voted San Diego's Best by the San Diego Union Tribune Readers. Mr. Sunnen has made appearances on both KUSI News and The Pulse Network where he has shared his expertise with the viewers on various topics and has provided lectures to his peers through ProLawCLE. Mr. Sunnen has extensive experience in the litigation of domestic violence restraining orders, complex, substantial wealth and income cases, including cases involving property characterization and apportionment, premarital, and marital agreements, and cases involving high earner and high standard of living child and spousal support. 


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