When a married couple separates, establishing a custody and visitation schedule is one of the most pressing needs on their minds—and arguably the most contentious issue in a divorce. The divorce process in California can take a long time, even years in some cases. Here is what you can expect as you and your spouse set up visitation time.
Creating a Parenting Plan
The state of California encourages families to at least try to come up with their own solution before asking the Court for assistance with child custody and visitation matters. A couple can craft a parenting plan together on their own or with the help of their attorneys. Once the parents agree on a parenting plan, a judge can review it and, if he approves, make it “official” through a court order.
A California parenting plan should consist of:
- Physical custody (Who will the child live with?)
- Legal custody (Who will make decisions for the child?)
- Visitation schedule (What days/times will the child spend with the noncustodial parent?)
- Financial responsibilities (Who is paying for childcare, health insurance, medical bills, education expenses, etc.?)
- Upbringing (Will we vaccinate our child? Should we send him to private school? What religious practices will we observe?)
- Communication (How do we communicate with each other and with our child?)
- Procedure to modify the agreement (What to do when the parenting plan needs to be altered?)
It can be overwhelming to try to agree on all these issues at once, especially if you are on less than good terms with your spouse. Since custody and visitation are the most important decisions in a parenting plan, it is okay to come up with a temporary agreement on these issues first and hammer out the other details later.
California Mediation Requirement for Child Custody and Visitation
If a divorcing couple cannot come to an agreement on their own, they will be required to attend mediation before child custody and visitation cases can be litigated in California family court. Mediation is when a neutral third party (usually an attorney) oversees the negotiation process to help the parties come to an agreeable solution. Not only can mediation be very effective, it is cheaper than a long litigation process.
If you do believe your visitation agreement will need to be litigated in court, be wary of temporary separation agreements. While a formal or informal interim agreement may be necessary to maintain smooth transitions for your children, agreeing to something “temporarily” could be the first step to it becoming a permanent fixture in your custody order. Be firm (but not unreasonable) when negotiating temporary visitation arrangements.
After mediation, if parents still cannot agree on a visitation schedule, a judge will decide for them, based on what is in the best interest of the child. There are different kinds of visitation orders, with some containing strict and detailed time-share schedules, and others being more open and flexible.
Need legal help? Call a California Family Law Attorney.
If you are separating or divorcing your child’s parent, you need legal assistance as soon as possible. The Orange County family law attorneys at R & S Law Group, LLP have years of experience helping families through difficult custody situations. Contact us today to request a free consultation.