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Child Visitation

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If you are seperating or divorcing and have minor children together, you are probably concerned about the welfare of your children and maintaining as stable of an environment as possible while your family goes through this transition. In California, a "custody and visitation agreement" is referred to as a "parenting plan." The parenting plan is the parents' written agreement about timeshare schedules (the schedule for when the child will be with each parent), and the decision-making process. Decision-making refers to how the parents will determine their children's education, medical care, participation in extracurricular activities, and general welfare.

A parenting plan can be more or less comprehensive, depending upon how well the parents work together and their particular needs. A more comprehensive written plan will help to prevent future conflicts over parents' respective timeshare schedule and decision-making. Once parents have signed off on a parenting plan, it is typically submitted to the court and becomes a court order. History has shown that when both parents play an active role in their children's lives and resolve or otherwise manage their conflict constructively rather than engaging in chronic and/or toxic parental conflict, the children are usually much happier, as are the parents. Change is hard on everyone, especially children, so it's important to encourage a workable parenting plan that fosters a healthy relationship between each parent and their children, providing neither parent is unfit. Mediation allows parents to solve problems and reach agreements, unlike custody battles, which tend to exacerbate parental conflict.

Terminology

As explained in Mark Baer’s article The Power of Words, the terms custody and visitation are “fighting words.”

No parent wants to be relegated such that they merely have “visitation” or “access” to their children. After all, unless you win the prize of custody, the terminology itself causes a parent to experience shame. This therefore frequently results in a "win at all costs" mentality.

In an effort to change the “win/lose” dynamic and hopefully put an end to the parental fighting caused by emotionally charged terms, many jurisdictions have eliminated them entirely. They have been replaced with more neutral and conciliatory terms such as “parenting plan,” “time-sharing,” “parental responsibility,” “parenting arrangements,” “parenting time,” “residential time,” and “contact.” These changes have occurred in England, Wales, Australia, and in many states in the U.S. However, for complex political reasons, California has not followed suit. As such and considering that people’s internet searches involve the use of such “fighting terms,” my website itself does contain them.

Do you think that a larger timeshare “victory” has the same cachet as taking home the custody prize? Does the parent with less of a timeshare feel shamed as a parent? Words are powerful.... Think about it.

Basics of Creating a Parenting Plan

In California, either parent can have custody of the children, or the parents can share the responsibility. Unless the parents enter into a parenting plan on their own, the judge makes the final decision regarding custody and visitation. Nobody knows your situation and your children's personalities and needs better than their parents; therefore, it is generally recommended for parents to reach child custody and visitation arrangements (parenting plan) on their own. In fact, the judge won't normally decide such things until after the parents have tried to reach their own agreement through mediation or similar processes.

Under California law, there are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to who makes the important decisions regarding the child's welfare such as health care and education, whereas physical custody refers to the timeshare schedule. Both legal and physical custody can be sole or joint. Joint physical custody means that both parents have significant periods of custodial time. Sole or primary custody means the child lives exclusively or primarily with one parent and the other parent has visitation time.

Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean the child spends an equal amount of time with both parents. However, unless the child spends a significant period of time with both parents, one parent is bestowed the title of primary custodial parent. Often, parents agree upon joint legal custody and not joint physical custody. This means both parents share equally in the responsibility in making important decisions about the child's life, and the child resides with one of the parents more of the time. In this case, the parent with less of a timeshare has visitation with their child.

Types of Visitation Schedules

Since every family is unique, visitation schedules vary and are created taking into account the child's needs and interests, the parents' individual situations, and other relevant factors. Visitation can be according to a detailed schedule that clearly defines the dates and times the children will be with each parent, including holidays, birthdays, Mother's day and Father's day, and vacations. The parents may, instead, elect to use a reasonable visitation schedule, which is more of an open-ended visitation schedule. For obvious reasons, this type of plan works best with parents who co-parent well with each other and can be flexible. Create a parenting schedule with the degree of specificity needed to try and prevent chronic and/or toxic conflict, rather than one that will generate it. Should such conflicts and disputes later arise, remember that mediation is a process designed to help you to problem-solve and work through such things.and disagreements.

When real abuse or neglect is occurring such that the child’s safety is at issue, particularly when certain types and levels of domestic abuse are involved, supervised visitation may be necessary. In this case, the visits with the other parent may be supervised by specified adults or by a professional monitor. In cases where the child's safety and well being is threatened just by virtue of seeing the other parent, that parent may not be awarded any visitation rights if that is found to be in the best interests of the child. This is particularly applicable in cases of child abuse, child molestation, and where the parents otherwise pose a danger to their children.

Pasadena Parenting Plan Mediator

The California courts do not automatically give custody to the mother or the father, regardless of the age or sex of the children. As Mark Baer explains in his article Parents Should Think Twice Before Engaging in a Custody Battle Over Their Children, when court intervention is involved the judge is the only person responsible for assessing what is and isn’t in the child’s best interest. However, since judges have such limited knowledge of the family, their subjective determination may or may not actually be in the best interest of the child.

Not only do judges handle a great many cases and therefore not have the ability to develop a clear understanding of any given family, but their decisions are only based upon the “legally relevant and admissible evidence“ submitted to the court. Among other things, judges and juries are “triers of fact.” In other words, it is the job of a judge to determine the facts based upon conflicting evidence and then to apply to law to the facts, as found by them. Of course, such factual findings are based upon the “legally relevant and admissible evidence“ before them, not all the facts.

When parents are unable on their own to agree on something pertaining to their children, it’s frequently because there is a difference of opinion as to what is in their child’s best interest. While each parent may sincerely believe that what they want is in their child’s best interest, not all beliefs are fact based, regardless of how sincerely held they may be. There are different ways to parent kids. Parenting styles are a matter of perception. Who’s to say that yours is “better”? “Better” is in the eye of the beholder. Unless it’s something that is endangering the child, some perspective is in order. Mediation can help parents to find common ground, build bridges between them and problem solve. In other words, mediation helps parents reach durable agreements that address the interests and needs of both parents and their child.

To learn more about child custody and visitation, please contact Pasadena visitation mediator Mark B. Baer today!

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