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Determining Child Custody Percentages in California

Child custody models vary from state to state. Many states create a general “Parent A” and “Parent B” model, but California uses a percentage system. This helps bypass much of the confusion and vagueness that other models create. The percentages represent how much time each parent keeps the children. Custody is streamlined down to 75/25, 60/40, etc.

In our greatest hopes, we all wish to have at least 50% custody of the children. This, however, is quite difficult to work pragmatically. Your first problem is the simple math of 50/50 custody. Our calendar fluctuates wildly between even and odd days. There are 12 months, but each month has a different number of days. There are 365 days in a year, which you cannot split evenly. One year has 52 weeks, so maybe each parent can alternate custody from week to week, but that would probably be a major strain on everyone involved.

In reality, parents should prepare to make sacrifices for the good of their kids. All custody decisions are made in the child’s best interests, not the parent’s. As badly as you want to see the kids all the time, you may have to accept a lower, unequal percentage for their own good. When deciding on an appropriate custody percentage, here are some factors the state considers.


The distance between parents is a major factor impacting child custody percentages. It affects every aspect of parenting. By using the percentage system, California doesn’t have a direct designation for “long-distance parenting.” It simply looks at how far apart parents are and factors that into its percentages.


School is a big part of a child’s life, and the state is concerned about education. Sometimes, percentage decisions reflect a parent’s educational qualifications. For example, if one parent is a teacher, the state may wish for the children to spend more of their weekdays with them. The demands of the child’s education could be considered as well. If the kids often have homework due on Monday, the state may want them with their full-time parent on Sunday nights.

Distance also plays an important role in the child’s education. Quite simply, being further away from a school makes education difficult. Busses may not run out to your area, so you will be responsible for taking the kids to and from. This could create work problems, as your job is probably closer to your home. If you are a good distance from the school, you may have to accept a lower percentage of custody throughout the week.

Social Life

It’s easy to forget that, even though they are young, children still have lives of their own. This fact becomes truer as the kids age. They have friends that live close by. Perhaps they have a church group or a karate team they pal around with. They also have extracurricular activities that are connected to the school, such as sports or the chess team. Perhaps they live near other close relatives.

Remember, custody percent is not about you. It’s about what’s best for the kids. Demanding a greater deal of time can take them from the lives they are building, especially when they become teens. Be prepared to sacrifice some of your time with them if it means giving them a richer social life.


Like education, the more qualified parent may receive a greater degree of custody due to healthcare needs. This qualification could be as simple as who is better suited for the job.

It’s important to remember your child’s specific needs. A child with a chronic illness or special needs requires continued, immediate access to treatment. This is another area where distance affects percentages. If you live far from a sickly child’s regular doctors, you probably won’t receive a high percentage of custody.

Creating a Parenting Plan in California

As with any family law matter, child custody decisions can be made in court. The judge reviews the facts, and they make decisions based on their belief about the child’s best interests. Neither parent has any power over these decisions. Both must make their case and hope the judge sides with them.

You can bypass court, working these decisions out on your own. Whenever possible, create a plan with your spouse directly. Whether it’s property division, spousal support, or child custody, it’s best to do it together. This gives you agency over what happens. No one walks away feeling they were “forced” to do one thing or another.

If you need extra help, consider mediation. In this process, a legal professional meets with you both, and you all create a plan together. Your mediator can keep everyone listening and cooperating, leaving you with a plan that was negotiated, not one you were forced into.

Modifying Percentages

If you need your current custody percentages altered, the process will be much like creating the original parenting plan. You can take the matter back to court, or you can renegotiate the plan with your ex.

There are several reasons to change your custody percentages. The most obvious is changing locations. If you go further away, it will be difficult to maintain a higher percentage of custody. However, if you move closer, you may be equipped to spend more time with the kids.

If your support system changes, that could be cause for a modification. Say you were on your own, and you couldn’t handle the kids for long stretches alone. Then you get married, or perhaps some relatives move closer to you. This could give you greater ability to care for the kids, having more adults around, and you could request more time with them.

Emotionally, changes in the relationship could also warrant more time. Maybe after the divorce, there was resentment, and being around the kids was difficult. Perhaps you fell into a depression, and you weren’t equipped to handle the kids for long stretches. When situations like these change, both parents and children may want more time together, and a modification is warranted.


If you’re concerned about a low percentage of custody, remember that you also have visitation rights. This is not considered direct custody of the child, but it still allows you time with them. Visitation does not have to be physical, either. In your parenting plan, you can build in phone calls or video chats. Visitation is a legal right, even when it’s only electronic. If your ex is blocking this time from you, they can get into legal trouble.

If you need help with creating or modifying your custody percentages, trust our firm to help. Contact us today by calling (916) 299-3936 or filling out our contact form.