Family law is a branch of legal proceedings that focuses on domestic relationships and family dynamics within a household, especially concerning children. Child support, custody battles, and visitation schedules all fall under the realm of family law and tend to be the most challenging and confusing aspects of family law cases.
Ensuring your child is properly cared for is the ultimate goal of any custody or visitation plan. There is a clear difference between child custody and visitation in California, and both impact the children and parents involved.
What Is Child Custody?
When parents separate, usually through a divorce, child custody is awarded by the court to the parent best suited to care for the shared child in order to best protect the welfare of the child. For example, one parent needs to be primarily responsible for bringing a shared child to doctor appointments, staying on top of medical records, ensuring that child is taken to school, and otherwise taking care of all their basic needs and care. If one parent was already doing so prior to the separation, they will likely retain custody. Although these factors can impact the decision for which parent retains primary custody, the ultimate decision rests in the court’s opinion as to which parent is better suited to the child’s needs.
Custody falls into two major categories: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the process of determining which parent is in charge of making important decisions for their children, primarily regarding healthcare and education, and this process may be handled jointly between both parents or completely by one parent.
Physical custody, on the other hand, concerns the parent with whom the child lives and can be either joint or solo, depending on the outcome of your court proceedings. If one parent is given complete legal custody of a child, that parent is deemed the custodial parent, or primary caregiver, and will also retain complete physical custody, allowing for the non-custodial parent to have visitation rights if the court decides they can do so.
What Is Visitation?
If one parent is awarded primary custody of a child, the other non-custodial parent can be awarded visitation rights as a way to maintain an active role in their child’s life. For some parents, having a scheduled visitation time is preferred to a more lax schedule, making it easier to arrange different vacations, family events, etc. For others, however, monitored or prohibited visitation is deemed the best visitation plan for both the custodial parent and the child in the situation. Depending on the relationship to the child in question, the types of visitation and visitation schedules can be negotiated by the court, with options including:
- Scheduled visitation: Scheduled visitation is a system put into place by the court that outlines a consistent visitation schedule for non-custodial parents to have with their children. Considering school schedules, breaks, vacation time, and employment responsibilities, these schedules help limit confusion for both parties and make visitation easy for both parents to commit to.
- Reasonable visitation: These visitation schedules are typically laxer than more court-involved schedules and allow parents to cooperatively develop visitation schedules on their own terms. Although better for accommodating various last-minute or emergency events, these schedules can get mismanaged and taken advantage of due to their lack of legal stability
- Supervised visitation: For some dynamics, depending on the child’s relationship with the parent requesting visitation, leaving both alone may not be feasible. Supervised visitation helps ensure the safety of your child by providing a buffer between them and their other parent while still allowing visitation to occur.
- No visitation: An unfavorable outcome to some visitation-related discussions in court is restricting visitation, used to limit and stop any interactions between a child and their parent. To preserve the welfare of the child in these cases, getting rid of any opportunity for interactions between these parents and their children is crucial for the child’s well-being.
What Are the Differences Between Child Custody and Visitation?
Child custody is the system that contributes to a visitation schedule. Without a firm standing on the custody arrangements of your shared children, planning a visitation schedule is impossible. The process of awarding custody creates a primary caregiver for your child, which includes deciding which parent a child lives with for the majority of the time.
Visitation, unlike custody, is a temporary interaction between children and their parents. It is usually part of a sole custody agreement. For example, parents with joint custody do not consider the time that their child visits their other parent “visitation” because both parents carry the responsibility of raising their child; however, if one parent retains sole custody over a shared child, the time the non-custodial parent spends with their child is considered visitation.
Can Custody and Visitation Be Renegotiated?
Depending on different circumstances, such as changing developments or the inability to handle certain responsibilities, both child custody and visitation schedules can be modified to better suit the changing situation. If a parent with primary custody is unable to care for their child based on employment status, health concerns, or other larger events that change their living circumstances, the previously deemed terms of the custody agreement and subsequent visitation schedule may need to be renegotiated to best care for the child. In less drastic circumstances, especially concerning reasonable visitation schedules, talking to your ex-spouse about a previously determined visitation may be appropriate.
When to Seek a Sacramento Family Law Attorney
Before entering any legal proceedings concerning visitation and child custody, finding a reliable attorney to help facilitate any agreements and possible changes to your visitation schedule is crucial for getting the outcome you deserve. Depending on your custody agreement, these dealings can be tricky, and securing the right representation to help you and your child come out with the best possible scenario is the ultimate goal for these proceedings. For help with child custody and visitation in the Sacramento area, no other law firm compares to the legal expertise of Judy Ford, Attorney at Law. For more information, including a list of our practice areas, visit our website and contact us for a consultation today.