Single parents in California whose children live with them would probably consider themselves to have sole custody of their kids. But legally, custody is granted by the court, and without an official court order, a single parent might not be entitled to certain benefits like child support.
The law recognizes different types of child custody arrangements. Physical custody can be granted to one parent with the other parent usually being given visitation rights, or physical custody can be shared. Even when physical custody is not shared equally, a non-custodial parent can be very involved in the lives of the children and in decision making processes about the children. Two parents may share legal custody by court order even if they do not share physical custody equally.
Usually a parent with sole physical custody can receive child support payments from the other parent. But this depends on state law as well as several other factors. In order to request child support, the custodial parent must first obtain physical custody. Legally, physical custody is not automatic just because children live with one parent and the other parent is uninvolved. Applying for custody may be necessary for a parent who wants to be granted rights to child support payments, visits with his or her children or the right to make certain decisions about the children.
California courts tend to favor shared parenting when making child custody determinations. Many factors are considered by the courts, including the desires of the children in some cases. Courts are guided by the principle of doing what it is in the child's best interest.