Child visitation by a parent in California is also known as parenting time. It’s ordinarily set by a parenting plan that the parties enter into that becomes part of a divorce or parentage decree. In considering whether to approve a parenting plan, a court’s primary consideration is what will be in the best interests of a child or the children.
Custody Must First be Determined
Custody might be sole or joint. If the parties agree on joint custody, there’s a presumption that arises under section 3080 of some states’ Family Code that joint custody operates in the best interests of the children. Joint custody doesn’t mean equal participation in making major decisions though. Although custody might be joint, only one of the parties might have actual physical control of the child.
After custody has been decided, the court must make a determination on visitation, otherwise known as parenting time. The issue of what is in the best interests of the child also guides the visitation decision. It’s during this visitation stage that an order is entered by the court that specifically outlines how much time a party without actual physical control of a child will spend together. Such an order almost always in the best interests of the parties and the court too. Judges disfavor litigants who return to court for rulings on issues that were previously ignored.
There are three basic types of visitation orders. The most common is pursuant to a written schedule. A typical scheduled visitation order will contemplate, weekends, holidays, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and any extended periods of time for vacations. Pick-up and drop-off times and locations are ordinarily included. For purposes of avoiding any conflicts, detailed visitation plans are encouraged by the courts. The parties are likely to find that the input of a knowledgeable and experienced visitation rights lawyer will be invaluable in this context.
An order permitting reasonable visitation is far more open-ended than a scheduled visitation order. With a reasonable visitation order, parents are able to work out the details of visitation on an ongoing basis. This type of order is only going to work if the parents of the child are flexible and get along well with each other.
There are times when a child’s safety or well-being might be at risk during visitation. Under those circumstances, visitation might need to be supervised by the other parent, a third person, or a social service agency. Sometimes, supervised visitation might be ordered when a parent and a child need some time to get to know each other.
Can Visitation Be Denied?
There are times when visitation isn’t a safe option under any circumstances. Those might be when there is alcoholism or substance abuse, mental illness, or physical or sexual abuse pursuant to section 7823 of some states’ Family Code. There must be clear and substantial evidence that any of these would work against the best interests of the child.
A parent might unreasonably withhold visitation, but a court has the power to enforce its prior order by contempt proceedings. A specific petition must be filed though. Usually, some type of agreement that operates in the best interests of both parents and the child can be reached. They might even be amended on occasion by an agreement between the parties. Only in extreme circumstances do you want to place a visitation decision in a judge’s hands who has never met you or your child in the past.