Understanding Parental Visitation Rights in California
For people who are in the midst of a divorce in Los Angeles County and have children, the outcome of child custody and visitation rights are often the most important issues that will be decided in their divorce case. While financial decisions by the court have a major impact, what will happen to your children and your relationship with them going forward is, for so many people, the most important decision the Los Angeles divorce court will make. Child visitation and parenting plans have to accommodate the needs of both parents and the child. By taking the necessary time to thoroughly understand your unique family situation and the needs of your child, our Los Angeles divorce lawyers can help you obtain a detailed and effective parenting plan that minimizes the chance for conflicts and miscommunication and focuses primarily on the best interest of your child. There is no doubt that it is beneficial to understand what the possibilities are and what options you have in parental visitation rights. The decisions you make today will impact your life, and the life of your child, for many years. You must take the time to completely understand your legal options. Our family law attorneys can help you. If you are the non-custodial parent and not satisfied with the current child visitation arrangements, you need to contact an experienced child visitation attorney at Furman & Zavatsky LLP for assistance in modifying the visitation arrangement. If your ex-spouse interferes with your child visitation rights, you can go to the Los Angeles family law court and ask for modification of the child custody and visitation arrangement. In fact, you can even ask for a fixed visitation schedule that will detail the times and places for visitation. Now that we have covered a general overview of parental visitation rights, let’s take a more thorough look at child custody and visitation laws in California below.
Understanding the Basics of Child Custody
The court’s custody decision will largely determine the general framework of visitation. To understand visitation, you must first know the basics of custody. First, there are two kinds of child custody. Legal custody, which gives the custodial parent the power to make important decisions for the children, such as education and healthcare. Physical custody determines which parent the children live. Neither kind of legal custody is necessarily absolute.
For instance, the court can award joint legal custody, meaning that both parents are equally responsible for major decisions about the “health, education, and welfare of the children.” On the other hand, the court can award sole legal custody to one parent or the other, leaving that parent with the sole responsibility for major decisions about the children.
The other kind of custody, physical custody, is separate from legal custody. Physical custody establishes who the children will live. Under joint custody, the children split time between the two parents. This is not necessarily a 50-50 split, but it does mean that the children spend significant time living with each parent, even if one parent has the children more than half of the time. If the court awards sole or primary custody, the children live with one parent most of the time, and the non-custodial parent has visitation rights.
Sometimes the court will award joint legal custody but award sole or primary custody to only one parent. The parents then share responsibility for important decisions affecting the children, but the children live most of the time with the parent who has physical custody. The other parent has visitation rights under these circumstances, as well.
What Goes Into the Custody and Visitation Decisions?
In California, there is a standard public policy to ensure children will have continuing contact with both parents after they separate or dissolve the marriage, or when they just end their relationship. If both parents can’t come to an agreement on a parenting plan with their children, then the family law court will decide. The legal standard for the court’s decision is ALWAYS the child’s “best interest.” Child custody and visitation orders can be requested by either parent of the child. The evidence the courts consider can include social worker reports, witness testimony, psychological evaluation, and even the child’s preference. Other factors that could influence the decision by the court include any parental misconduct, such as alcohol or drug abuse, adultery, or domestic violence. As stated above, California requires the judge to consider the best interests of the child when making custody and visitation decisions. To determine what is best for a child, the most common issues the court will consider:
- How old the child is
- Any health issues the child has
- The emotional bond between the parents and the child
- The ability of the parents to care for the child
- If there is a history of violence or substance abuse in the family, and
- The child’s ties to their school, home, and community.
The Best Interest of the Child Policy
The court has a number of options when issuing a visitation order. The judge will consider the best interests of the child, and will have the parents come up with a parenting plan, or “custody and visitation agreement.” This is a written agreement crafted by the parents that will set forth a schedule for when each parent will be with the children, as well as how the parents will cooperate in major decisions relating to the children in instances of joint legal custody. The agreement is advisory and is not binding on the judge. The visitation options available to the judge include:
- Scheduled visitation: The court works with the parents and devises a schedule that details when the children will be with one parent or the other. The schedule covers regularly scheduled visits as well as special events such as birthdays, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, other major holidays, and vacations.
- Reasonable visitation: This visitation order might not have specific details on when the children will be with which parent. Such an order is common when the parents’ relationship is amicable, and they have demonstrated they can get along and be flexible in making decisions together. Such an order can be subject to disagreements, however.
- Supervised visitation: When the children’s safety or other factors make it advisable, the court will order supervised visitation. This kind of order is used mainly when there is a history of domestic abuse, substance abuse, long absence separating the visiting parent from the children, or no historical relationship between the visiting parent and the children, among other factors.
- No visitation: The court can determine that no visitation, even supervised, would be in the best interests of the children and accordingly deny all visitation or contact.
Custody and visitation are complex, intertwined issues. Because court orders will determine how much access you have to your children in the future, you should do everything possible to protect your rights and your relationship with your children.
If You are Getting a Divorce and Have Children, Contact the Attorneys of Furman & Zatavsky
If you are undergoing a divorce in the Los Angeles area and have children, you need to seek legal assistance. Even if you are awarded custody, you likely will be subject to a visitation order, as well, that grants certain visitation rights to your spouse. It is important to fully understand the consequences of such orders and the obligations that they place upon you. Contact the attorneys of Furman & Zatavsky at (818) 528-3471 or through our online contact form to find out how we can help.