An effective visitation schedule is one of the primary components of a successful child custody arrangement. Every family situation is different, calling for unique solutions. Various visitation structures may be developed in these matters, each having its own strengths and weaknesses, and some being ordered out of necessity. Although parents are encouraged to work together to develop a time-sharing plan, when they can’t agree or the situation requires it, the court may step in and decide based on what’s in the child's best interests.
What Is a Visitation Schedule?
A visitation schedule is an important part of a child custody case in California, as it helps ensure that a child has consistent contact with both parents. The arrangement details when each parent will spend time with the child.
Visitation orders are decided based on the child’s best interests. They can vary from family to family, depending on their unique situation.
Without having a court-approved document specifying the expectations and responsibilities of each parent, confusion can arise, disrupting the balance within the family dynamic. Additionally, it would be hard for parents to exercise their rights if the other refuses them access to the child.
How Do the Different Visitation Structures Work?
Visitation structures in child custody cases depend on the family’s circumstances.
The types of visitation arrangements that may be made include the following:
- Scheduled visitation: This structure consists of a plan detailing the parents’ time spent with the child. It specifies the dates and times each parent has the child and may also contain provisions about holidays, special occasions, and vacations.
- Reasonable visitation: This arrangement does not designate times and dates for each time sharing. Instead, it is more open-ended, allowing the parents to decide when visits occur.
- Supervised visitation: This may occur if one parent poses an actual or potential risk to the child’s safety and well-being. The other parent, an adult, or an authorized proctor will be present during the visit.
- No visitation: As with supervised visitation, this arrangement may be made if one parent poses a threat to the child’s well-being. However, the court might determine that even under supervision, the child would not be safe and not allow the parent to see their child at all.
Understanding which visitation structure is in place can ensure that both parties adhere to their respective roles and how much contact they have with their child.
What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Each Visitation Structure?
Whether visitation is strictly planned, loosely arranged, or monitored by a third party, each structure has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Below are some of the benefits and drawbacks of the different structures:
- Scheduled: On the plus side, parents and children have detailed plans that can prevent conflicts about when visits will happen. That said, sticking to schedules can be difficult for some people. If too many visits are skipped, other legal problems may arise. Maintaining a scheduled visitation plan can provide structure but might not work for families that need flexibility.
- Reasonable: On the one hand, this plan allows parents to set up an arrangement that works well with their schedules. On the other hand, the open-ended format can lead to disagreements and misunderstandings if parents cannot clearly communicate expectations. The arrangement can work for parents who can cooperate with each other, but it’s not ideal in high-conflict situations.
- Supervised: The most evident benefit is that this arrangement protects the child’s safety. It also allows a parent to maintain some kind of contact with their child, even during times of strife. Supervised visitation can also help parents and children get to know each other if they’ve previously had minimal contact. The downside to the plan is that there is a lack of individual time between parent and child, and there may be stricter regulations.
- No visitation: This structure protects the child from harm. Still, it eliminates contact between a parent and their child.
How Are Visitation Schedules Decided?
Typically, parents are encouraged to decide on a visitation schedule amongst each other if circumstances allow. Still, for the plan to be legally binding and court enforceable, they must submit it for a judge’s approval.
If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court will likely order them to mediation. A neutral third party helps facilitate an amicable solution.
Finally, should all other avenues of discussion fail, the visitation schedule is left to a judge's discretion. Their determination will be based on the child’s best interests.
Speak with an Attorney About Your Case
Visitation schedules can be a complicated but important part of child custody arrangements. It’s essential to consider the child’s best interests, safety risks, and the amount of time each parent will spend with their child. Having a plan in place clearly outlining each parent’s responsibilities is crucial.
If you would like help understanding visitation rights and developing a schedule tailored for your family’s unique circumstances, reach out to a family law attorney.To schedule a consultation with Claery & Hammond, LLP, contact us at (310) 817-6904. We provide guidance to parents in Los Angeles.