When you are in a proceeding to decide how to share the custody and visitation of your children, many decisions must be made by you and the other parent on how you will co-parent your minor children. If you are unable to reach an agreement, the court will make a decision for you that you may or may not like. A custody and visitation case can come up in a divorce, legal separation, domestic violence restraining order, paternity case, or simply a case that involves only custody and visitation and does not change your marital or other relationship with the other parent.
If the parents cannot make joint decisions about a parenting plan entirely on their own, they must file a motion seeking court assistance, the court will require the parties attend Family Court Services (FCS), mediation, a court-provided service with someone who is a professional, neutral and who will attempt to help the parents come up with a plan. It is possible this process will not work for all parties but in most California counties the mediator makes a recommendation to the judge after mediation and the court must decide whether to adopt some or all of the recommendations pending further proceedings.
The types of parenting plans that must be worked on for child custody schedules will include such options as joint or sole legal custody, joint or sole physical custody, visitation/parenting time on a schedule for each parent, holidays and vacation periods, weekends, weekdays, where the children go to school, selection of a doctor extracurricular activities, and travel both within and outside California, among other issues. The Superior Court of California in San Diego lists these legal terms for your guidance on child custody examples:
Visitation: The designated time in which the non-custodial parent shall have physical custody of the children.
Legal Custody: The rights and responsibilities of parents to make decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of their children.
Joint Legal Custody: One of the most common joint custody schedules, both parents share in the right and responsibility to make decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of a child.
Sole Legal Custody: One parent has the sole right and responsibility to make decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of a child.
Physical Custody: How much time the children spend with each parent; where the children live; how day-to-day responsibilities are fulfilled.
Joint Physical Custody: Children spend a significant amount of time with each parent.
Importantly, some sort of co-parenting plan must be set in the best interest of your children and the courts will generally give each parent as much time as possible that is in the best interest of the children. This could mean alternating weeks, a 2-2-5 schedule, or weekends 50/50 schedule with each parent having a week-on, week-off schedule might be preferred over a schedule where the children go back and forth between parents several times a week. Holidays and vacation periods are usually evenly shared, such as one parent having Christmas Day in even years and the other parent having that day in odd years.
With shared legal custody, the parents will make joint decisions about health, education and welfare issues, including important decisions such as which school the children will attend, what doctor they will engage for the children, religious enrollment, participating in parent-teacher conferences, enrolling extracurricular activities like sports and school plays, and more.
Establishing a good parenting plan that supports your children, with the agreement of the other parent or leaving the decisions to the court is an important step in the lives of your children, especially if you are ending the relationship with the other parent and thus changing the family dynamic in many ways. Consider speaking to a Family Law attorney for more information on how to prepare and participate in a custody and visitation case. At JWB Family Law, our attorneys are available to give you sound legal advice and assistance to assist you in this process.