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Child Visitation Rights in California

In California, visitation (also known as parenting time) is the scheduled time each parent has with a child in cases where the parents live separately and apart. Visitation will be a key issue addressed during any child custody case. 

With married parents, visitation rights will arise in divorce or legal separation cases. In cases where parties never married, parties can resolve visitation (and custody) issues in a parentage case.

Divorce or any formal separation of an otherwise intact family can take an emotional toll on children. The best thing parents can do for their children in such circumstances is to stay calm and respectful of each other.

Once the parties have separated, California law encourages both parents to maintain a relationship with the child under most circumstances. Absent a history of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or substance abuse, there is usually a presumption for reasonable visitation with each parent. 

Custody and visitation determinations in California focus primarily on the child's health, safety, and welfare. Courts will review several factors to assess a child's well-being and decide what visitation will be in the child's best interests.

Types of Visitation Orders

Depending on state law, custody and visitation can mean different things. When a child lives with one parent most of the time, the court order may refer to that parent having sole physical custody of the child. The court then grants the other parent visitation and a schedule of time for seeing the child.

Sometimes, a judge may give both parents joint legal custody of the child. This means both parents can decide about the child's health, welfare, and education. But this may not mean joint physical custody. The child may still physically live with only one parent most of the time.

Joint physical custody with equal or nearly equal visitation time for the parents happens most often in cases where parents remain in the same community and cooperate well for their child's benefit.

There are four common types of visitation orders that a family court judge may issue:

  1. Visitation: The parent who has the child less than half the time usually has visitation. Detailed visitation plans help the parents and the children avoid confusion and conflict.
  2. Supervised visitation: Sometimes, the court requires the child to have a supervising adult or professional agency with them for visitation with a parent. This may be to ensure the child's safety and welfare in cases where the parent has engaged in domestic violence or substance abuse. Other times, it may be because the parent and child need time to get to know and feel comfortable around each other. In such circumstances, supervised visitation is often temporary. The court may set benchmarks (expressed by periods or achievements in sobriety or counseling) that lead to a transition into unsupervised visitation in the future. 
  3. No visitation: If visiting with the parent would be physically or emotionally harmful to the child, the judge will order no visitation. This may happen in cases of child abuse and certain cases involving domestic violence or a restraining order. The court is always most concerned with what is in the best interests of the child. If that means that the child does not visit with one of their parents, then the court may ensure that the child is safe through a "no visitation" order.
  4. Virtual visitation: Advances in modern-day technology allow creative ways to accommodate visitation between parents. Virtual visitation is one method that allows parents and children to visit via webcam. In cases where the parent with visitation lives in another state, virtual visitation can allow the parent and child to have regular contact between long-distance visits that are less frequent. 

Factors that California Courts Consider

When determining child custody orders with visitation arrangements in California, courts consider several factors. These factors include:

  • The child's health, safety, and welfare
  • The parents' ability to provide care
  • Any history of domestic violence or abuse
  • The habitual or continual use of illegal drugs or abuse of alcohol by either parent
  • The child's relationship with each parent, including the nature and amount of contact the child has with each parent
  • The child's preference is if they are old and mature enough to express it.

Also, courts may consider each parent's work schedule, living arrangements, and willingness to support the child's relationship with the other parent.

Visitation Schedules

With visitation schedules, parents and the court can outline when and how parents with joint physical custody or non-custodial parents can spend time with their children. These schedules vary widely depending on the child's age, the parents' availability, and any specific needs or preferences. The schedule should detail the following:

  • How parents will divide time with their child on weekdays
  • How parents will divide time with their child on weekends
  • How parents will divide time with the children during school breaks
  • How parents will divide time with their child on holidays and special occasions
  • When can each parent take the child on vacation, and under what circumstances?

Parents must adhere to these visitation arrangements and communicate effectively to provide stability and support for their children during challenging times.

Where parents can cooperate (outside of court or during a court process), they may be able to agree on the schedule and make it part of a parenting plan. Some courts, like the family courts in San Diego, provide specific outlines of how parties can develop their plan.

The court often encourages the parents to use mediation services to reach an agreed visitation schedule. If they succeed, they can move the court to adopt their parenting plan as a court order. 

Speak With a Family Law Attorney

The visitation issue can be a flashpoint in custody cases or requests to change the terms of a parenting plan. In California and other states, seeking legal advice on your child's visitation rights makes sense. 

An experienced family law attorney will know about child custody and visitation laws. A lawyer can also advise on your custody arrangement, child support, and parental rights. Consider speaking to a family law attorney near you today. 

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