How California determines child custody and visitation

Joint physical custody in California means that both parents have the children for roughly half the time. When one parent has less than 50% physical custody, he or she has visitation. Families can create a visitation arrangement that fits their unique structure and needs.

These are the most common types of visitation orders when a couple with children divorces in California. Either parent can request an official child custody order either as part of the divorce or separately.

Scheduled visitation

Consider creating an annual visitation schedule that specifies the dates on which the children will be with each parent. Detailed plans for visitation provide peace of mind for all members of the family, particularly the children. This also lets you plan ahead for special events like birthdays and vacations.

Reasonable visitation

Sometimes, the judge orders reasonable visitation in a child custody case. This arrangement suits some parents who have a good relationship with one another, strong communication skills and the need for flexibility in their parenting plan. When the relationship between the parents becomes contentious, however, an open-ended visitation schedule can result in misunderstandings and the need to return to court.

Supervised visitation

Certain cases require visitation with one parent to include supervision by a third party, such as a family member or county child advocate. California limits supervised visitation to cases in which:

  • The noncustodial parent has threatened abduction.
  • The judge has concerns about the parent’s ability to care for the child unsupervised.
  • The parent has a history of substance abuse, violence or neglect.
  • The parent must address specific issues before he or she receives the right to unsupervised visitation.
  • The parent and child have not had a relationship for some time or ever.

Lack of visitation in California is rare in cases where the parent wants to have contact with his or her child. However, the judge may bar a parent from visitation if he or she feels that seeing the parent would cause the child physical or emotional harm.

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