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Child Custody & Visitation After Separation in California

Child Custody and visitation rights in California

When married parents separate in California, both parents retain important rights and responsibilities concerning the raising of their children.

Child custody and visitation rights are chief considerations at this time. Child custody refers to who has the right to make decisions for and live with the child when the parents live apart while visitation refers to the scheduled time each parent spends with the child.

If parents cannot determine a viable custody and visitation schedule that serves the best interests of the child, the California courts will need to intervene. Custody cases can be extremely stressful for parents and children and understanding more about the relevant laws and legal options can help parents navigate the system during such a difficult time.

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Types of child visitation orders in California

California law presumes that both parents should maintain a relationship with the child—unless there is a history of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or substance abuse. The child’s health, safety, and welfare are the priorities in custody and parenting cases.

Commonly, judges in California award “joint legal custody” of the child after separation or divorce, meaning that both parents must cooperate and decide on the child’s health, welfare, and education. The child may still live with only one parent most of the time, however.

Maintaining a close relationship in these circumstances often requires a visitation schedule to be arranged for the parent without “physical custody”. In custody cases in California, the court may need to issue a visitation order, which can take one of several forms:

  • Visitation order: where the parent who has the child less than half the time has visitation, which is often outlined in a detailed parenting plan.
  • Supervised visitation order: where the court orders that the parent without physical custody can spend time with the child only when supervised by a professional to ensure the child’s safety and welfare (often in cases involving domestic abuse). This can be a temporary or permanent arrangement.
  • No visitation order: if visitation by a parent is not in the child’s best interests or is considered potentially harmful for the child, the California courts may issue a no-visitation order (usually in cases involving serious domestic abuse).

Visits between parents and children are usually in-person, but virtual visitation via online meetings can be ordered by the courts to facilitate regular contact between parents and children, especially if the distance between the parents’ locations is a factor.

What child custody factors are considered by the California Courts?

Before reaching a decision, courts will review several factors to assess a child’s well-being and decide what type of visitation is in the child’s best interests. The main factors are:

  • The child’s health, safety, and welfare
  • Each parent’s ability to provide care
  • Any history of domestic violence or abuse
  • The child’s relationship with each parent, including the nature and amount of contact that the child has with each parent
  • Whether there is habitual or continual use of illegal drugs or abuse of alcohol by either parent
  • The child’s preference (if mature enough to express it)
  • Each parent’s work schedule and living arrangements
  • Each parent’s willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent
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What do child visitation schedules include?

Visitation schedules outline when and how parents spend time with their children—whether there is joint physical custody or a sole custody arrangement.

The schedules vary depending on the child’s age, specific needs, and preferences as well as the availability of both parents but usually include the following information:

  • 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?

Visitation schedules must be precise, and parents must adhere to the conditions outlined. Successful schedules require effective communication, coordination, and cooperation between parents. This can sometimes be challenging after a marriage ends.

Ideally, the parents can work together to provide stability and support for their children, but this is not always the case. If the child’s best interests are jeopardized, the California courts may intervene and order mediation to develop a parenting plan. If successful, a court order can then be issued.

What factors may affect your visitation rights in California?

Most child custody cases are resolved without a court battle but, where the level of conflict over parenting and visitation is insurmountable for a workable solution to be found, a child custody battle may ensue.

In such disputes, details about parents’ past behavior or actions may emerge and these can be used against one parent. In making its custody and parenting decisions, the court will consider major factors like any history of substance abuse, criminal activity, or mental illness, as well as any history of neglect or questionable parenting, such as removing a child from school or daycare without good reason.

Other actions that will be considered include:

  • Violation of any court orders, e.g., child support, alimony, temporary custody arrangements, restraining orders, etc.
  • Physical or verbal abuse toward any member of the family (including abuse on social media)
  • Failure to cooperate with the other parent, which could negatively impact the child
  • Moving in with a new partner, which could be viewed as a “red flag” for the child’s ongoing care and wellbeing
  • Parental alienation strategies—trying to turn the child against the other parent or denying contact

Any actions that could be viewed as detrimental to the harmonious upbringing of the child will be of interest to the judge presiding over the case. Parents accused of the above types of actions can suffer setbacks in their case. Having an experienced child custody lawyer to advocate for you can improve your chances of obtaining a positive result.

If you are facing a child custody issue, the family attorneys at The Sands Law Group APLC can help. Contact us or call 213-788-4412 today for a free 15-minute phone consultation about your case.

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