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How Do Child Visitation Plans Work?

One of the most stressful aspects of any divorce case is the child custody arrangement and visitation schedule involved. When divorced parents share custody of their children, the judge reviewing the case will take multiple factors into account to develop a custody arrangement in the best interests of the couple’s children. Ultimately, the court has the final say, but a couple’s personal requests and input from their children may enter a judge’s consideration.

What Is a Child Visitation Schedule?

There are many possible custody arrangements that may follow a divorce. If the court deems both parents fit to care for their children, both parents have acceptable living accommodations, and both parents live in close proximity to each other, it is possible to have 50/50 joint custody. The parents may alternate weeks with their children or develop a specific joint custody schedule that works for their kids.

If one parent moves out of the area, then the parent remaining in the family home or hometown will likely retain majority custody unless the court has some reason to believe that moving with the other parent out of the area would be more in line with the children’s best interests. The financial situations, criminal histories, backgrounds of substance abuse and domestic violence may all come into play in these custody determinations.

When one parent has majority custody, the other parent may only have custody on weekends, over summer vacations, or during certain holidays. If one parent has full custody, then the other parent may only have the option of visitation through a strict schedule. This is especially common when one parent has a criminal record, mental health disorder, or other issue that the court deems as interfering with the parent’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for his or her children.

Navigating a Visitation Schedule in California

A visitation schedule must comply with state custody laws and the court must accept and approve it. The court must also have a copy of the visitation schedule and the parents need to develop a comprehensive parenting plan that incorporates this schedule. Both divorced parents must remember that a custody agreement may not necessarily feel “fair” to both parties, but the court is not concerned with fairness or the parent’s personal feelings. Ultimately, the court will rule in favor of the child’s best interests. A parent may hope for a 50/50 visitation schedule, but the court may deem that a 70/30 or 80/20 visitation split works more toward the best interests of the children involved.

Life is unpredictable and sticking to a visitation schedule is not always possible. When unforeseen circumstances or special occasions arise, the parents need to work together to come up with a solution for these issues. For example, imagine there is an event that the children want to attend in their mother’s area but the event takes place during a weekend with their father. If the father agrees to let them spend an extra weekend with their mother, it would not be out of the ordinary for him to request a second weekend in a row with the children following the event to balance out visitation.

Some parents may decide to set firm processes for handling these situations during divorce proceedings. It is vital for both parents to honor these agreements as any violation of a child custody agreement or visitation schedule could lead to legal issues for the offending parent. If a parent repeatedly violates a child custody agreement without reasonable justification, it is possible that the court will decide to restrict his or her visitation rights or adapt the custody agreement in other ways.

When in Doubt, Contact an Attorney

Remember, developing a solid custody arrangement and visitation schedule early on is important, and sticking to the schedule is even more important. The court may approve minor adjustments later, but generally the court frowns upon changing a custody agreement because it can cause instability in the children’s lives. If you have questions about an impending divorce, a family law attorney is a fantastic resource for all issues concerning child custody, visitation, and divorce in general. If you’re in the San Francisco, San Mateo or surrounding areas, contact our office to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced San Francisco child visitation attorneys.