Negotiating the Visitation Schedule

One of the most important elements following a family separation is negotiating the visitation schedule in the best interests of the child. If you are in the process of creating a schedule, it will be important to consider the other parent’s ability to cooperate, as well as their relationship with the child. In today’s blog, we discuss the different types of visitation and potential schedules you can negotiate with the other parent.

Types of Visitation

Following a custody order, visitation is the plan for how the parents will share time with their children. Visitation orders may vary, depending on the best interests of the children and the situation of the parents. Some common types of visitation are:

  • Visitation according to a schedule – detailed visitation schedule to prevent conflicts and confusion, specifying the dates and times that the children will be with each parent; the schedule can include holidays, special occasions (birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day), and vacations.
  • Reasonable visitation – does not necessarily have details as to when the children will be with each parent and instead are open-ended and allow the parents to work it out between them; this plan can work if parents get along very well and can be flexible and communicate well with one another.
  • Supervised visitation – when the children’s safety and well-being require that visits with the other parent be supervised by you, another adult, or a professional agency; sometimes also used in cases where a child and a parent need time to become more familiar with each other, like if a parent has not seen the child in a long time.
  • No visitation – when visiting with the parent, even with supervision, would be physically or emotionally harmful to the children; it is not in the best interest of the children to have any contact with the parent.

Creating the Visitation Schedule

In deciding custody, judges must consider what is in the “best interest of the child,” which is based on the following factors:

  • the age of the child,
  • the health of the child,
  • the emotional ties between the parents and the child,
  • the ability of the parents to care for the child,
  • any history of family violence or substance abuse, and
  • the child’s ties to school, home, and their community.

The parents will need to submit a suggested schedule and parenting plan to the court during trial or in negotiation settings like mediation and collaborative law conferences. In most cases, parents can make their own agreements for custody and visitation without a court order.

If both parents cannot agree on a schedule individually, the judge will send both parents to mediation and a mediator from Family Court Services. If you still cannot agree, you and the other parent will meet with the judge, who will then decide your custody and visitation schedule. In some cases, the judge may appoint a child custody evaluator to do a custody evaluation and recommend a parenting plan.

Parents can create a schedule from scratch or look at popular parenting schedules for ideas. California prefers to give children significant time with both parents whenever it is in their best interest. The alternating weeks schedule has the child spend seven days with one parent, then seven days with the other. Alternatively, the 3-4-4-3 schedule has the child spend 3 days with one parent, then 4 days with the other parent, and then the next week 4 days with the first parent, then 3 days with the other.

If you want to share parenting time without a detailed schedule, you can include general information about joint or sole physical custody in your plan and say that parents agree to reasonable visitation. Note that if there is conflict or frequent disagreement between the parents, a schedule works better than reasonable visitation.

Additionally, the court can also grant visitation to step-parents, grandparents, foster parents and any other person that has played a significant role in the child's life, as long as they find it to be in the best interest of the child.

Note that custody and visitation schedules are often different for children of different ages, even within the same family. Schedules also often need to change as a child grows. Infants and toddlers need frequent, consistent contact with their parents to develop secure relationships and limit anxiety, while older children are able to handle longer periods away from each parent but need their extracurricular activities and social lives accounted for.

Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP for Legal Guidance

If you are in the process of negotiating a visitation schedule following divorce or separation, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP for legal counsel. Our attorneys can assess the facts of your situation and help you make an informed decision on what type of visitation to pursue and how to negotiate a suggested schedule with the other parent.

Contact our firm at Claery & Hammond, LLP today to schedule your free case evaluation.