In many cases, divorcing or separating parents in California share joint physical custody of their children. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the children spend exactly equal time with each parent, but it does mean that parenting time is split equitably. In other cases, however, joint custody is not possible or just not practical, such as when the parents involved live far apart from each other and can’t easily split parenting time in half or nearly in half. In those cases, one parent usually has physical custody and the other parent has some type of visitation. Take a look at what you need to know about the types of visitation and how visitation schedules are decided in California.
Types of Visitation
Visitation can look very different in different families. That’s because visitation isn’t just one thing. There are several different types of visitation, and they can be modified depending on the needs of the parents and children involved.
Scheduled visitation is one of the more common types of visitation. This means that the parent who has visitation gets to spend time with the children at regularly scheduled intervals, like every other weekend or over the summer. Parents, or the court, will also designate which parent the children will be with on special occasions, like holidays and birthdays. Scheduled visitation can help avoid conflicts between parents. When it’s specifically spelled out who will be with the children and when, then there’s no need to argue about it. You can just follow the schedule. This type of visitation also helps to avoid confusion and missed visitation, which can be upsetting for children and create unnecessary conflict between parents.
Reasonable visitation is another option. This is a much more open-ended visitation option without specifically scheduled visitation times. Instead, the custodial parent is simply required to allow the other parent to have a reasonable amount of time with their children. For amicably divorced parents – especially those with flexible or fluctuating schedules, this may be a good choice. However, it can be very easy to disagree about what “reasonable” means to each parent, and if the parents don’t have a good co-parenting relationship, this option can create more conflict.
Supervised visitation is when the parent with visitation is supervised during their time with the children by the other parent, another adult, or a professional agency designated by the court. There are a number of reasons why supervision might be required for some parents. This might be necessary for a parent who has newly entered or re-entered their child’s life after a long period of uninvolvement, in which case the supervision may only be temporary until parent and child get to know each other. Or, supervision might be required when there is some risk to the child’s health or safety with the other parent – such as when the parent with visitation has a drug problem, a debilitating mental illness, or a history of domestic violence or abuse.
The final type of visitation is no visitation. California courts recognize the importance of children building a relationship with both parents, and will generally try to ensure that this is possible, even if it means supervision or other restrictions. But in some cases, the court may determine that even with supervision, visitation would be physically or emotionally harmful to the child and is therefore not in their best interests. In those cases, no visitation would be ordered.
What Factors Go Into Deciding Visitation?
So how is it determined what type of visitation a parent will have, and how much visitation there will be? There are several factors that the court will consider when it comes to deciding this question. Of course, the health and safety of the child is a paramount concern. If the custodial parent presents evidence that the other parent poses a risk to the health and safety of the child, then visitation might be restricted or prohibited. In certain cases, such as when a parent has been convicted of first-degree murder or of certain types of physical or sexual abuse a judge is usually prohibited from granting unsupervised visitation to that parent. And there are many other circumstances in which a judge may decide not to grant unsupervised visitation.
Judges also consider the child’s preference when it comes to visitation. While there’s no guarantee that a child will get their exact preference, judges in California are required to allow children over 14 to state their preferences and may allow younger children to do so as well if they deem it in the child’s best interests.
Another consideration is the co-parenting skills of the two parents. In some cases, one parent may try to alienate the child from the other parent or to interfere with the other parent’s ability to build a relationship with their child. Family court judges view these types of acts very unfavorably, and they may limit or restrict a parent’s visitation if that parent has a history of interfering in the child’s relationship with the other parenting. Actively working toward an effective and amicable co-parenting relationship can help a parent with visitation have as much contact with their child as possible.
Finally, judges also consider the continuity and stability of the situation for the child. It’s important for children to feel that they can count on their family and on their ties to their own community. Judges are reluctant to separate siblings, remove children from schools that they’re established in, or to interfere with their ties to extended family members, even to accommodate a visitation schedule. That means that if your children are in public school on a traditional school schedule, for example, a judge may not approve a visitation that requires removing them from school for two weeks in the middle of March, even if that’s when the visiting parent has a vacation from work.
Whether you’re working out a visitation schedule with your ex to be approved by the court, or you’re waiting for the court to decide on a visitation schedule for you, knowing the family court procedures and making sure that you file the correct documents with the court will help. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you prepare for family court proceedings to determine visitation.