When you’re going through a divorce and there are children involved, custody will need to be determined as well as visitation. While some couples can easily make these decisions, it can become complicated for others.
One parent can have custody of children in California or both parents can share custody. The judge will make the final decision about custody and visitation. But, if both parents can agree, the judge will likely approve that plan. If parents can’t agree, the judge will decide at a hearing. This is why it’s important to understand your rights as well as what is in the best interest of the child.
Child custody in California can be either legal or physical. Here’s a look at how the two differ:
The parent or parents who have legal custody make important decisions for the child regarding education, healthcare, among other things. If parents share legal custody, they both have the right to make decisions about their children’s lives although they don’t have to agree on everything. But, if parents can’t make decisions together, they will end up back in court.
Physical custody refers to where the child lives. One parent can have physical custody when the child lives with one parent most of the time and has visitation with the other. Two parents can share physical custody when the child lives with both of them for a set time.
Custody must be in the best interest of the child. When the court decides this, it will consider
- The child’s age and health
- The connection between the child and parent
- The parent’s ability to care for the child
- History of family violence or substance abuse
- The child’s connection to school and community
It’s important to note that a judge does not automatically give custody to one parent. All of these factors will be taken into consideration.
When one parent has sole physical custody, the other parent gets visitation. There are different types of visitation orders depending on the family dynamic.
It’s helpful if visitation is scheduled so there is no confusion. A schedule will have specific dates and times for when children are spending time with each parent. It can include holidays and vacations.
Reasonable visitation orders allow parents to work out the details themselves. If both parents get along well, this can work because they can communicate with each other and make decisions based on the best interest of the children. This type of open schedule is usually not recommended when both parents have trouble agreeing on things.
Supervised visits are necessary when the children’s safety is being questioned. These types of visits can be used in cases when one child and parent need to become more familiar with each other. Other reasons for supervised visitation include:
- A history of domestic violence or abuse
- A parental threat of abduction
- Concerns over mental illness
The court will provide a third party to be present during these visits. A parent will be given time for their supervised visit. Sometimes parents are also given a set location.
If being with one parent would physically or emotionally harm the child, no visitation will be granted. In these cases, it’s in the child’s best interest not to have any contact with the parent.
Changing a Custody Order
Even after a judge has made a visitation order, one or both parents can request a change. But, there has to be a valid reason. There has to be a change in circumstances since the final custody order was made. Revisions must be needed to keep the best interest of the child in mind.
When both parents can’t agree on a custody arrangement, mediation is likely. A mediator (unbiased third party) helps parents resolve their disagreements and keep the children’s best interests in mind. The mediator will not only help parents develop a parenting plan but also assure that children get time with both parents.
If there are domestic violence concerns, a mediator will help to put a parenting plan in place that is safe for everyone. A mediator may recommend supervised visits or safe places for the children to be dropped off and picked up. Detailed orders will be put in place as to when visits will take place.
As you can see, many questions may arise when it comes to custody issues. Coming up in our final topic of this series, we’ll take a closer look at the visitation rights of grandparents. This can be a delicate issue that needs to be handled with care.
We are here to support you through this complex process and to ensure the best interest of your child is the number one priority. Please reach-out if you have questions: www.williamstrachanfamilylaw.com