How Child Custody And Visitation Works

Even the most amicable of divorces can be complicated by the determination of child custody and visitation rights.  For this reason, even couples who feel they can come to terms on their own should seek legal advice and assistance.  Child custody and visitation schedules should be made part of an official court order, so that in case of future disagreements, everyone will know where they stand.  Additionally, we recommend that you read our article about what happens with child custody and visitation when a parent decides to move.

The Divorce Decree

Custodial rights and visitation schedule agreements are part of any divorce proceeding in California involving minor children.  In cases where the parents were not married, child custody agreements may be handled outside the courts; however, once again, a court order is the best assurance that all parties will follow the letter of the agreement.  Child custody agreements should cover, as a minimum:

  • Which is the custodial parent;
  • Regularly scheduled visitation periods for the non-custodial parent;
  • Whether visitations shall be supervised or unsupervised;
  • Where visitations will take place;
  • Holiday and vacation schedules.

The more detailed a child custody agreement, the less room for argument and misinterpretation.  A solid, well-constructed custody agreement is particularly important for the children, so that they will not be made the center of a bitter custody dispute.  If one parent violates the custody agreement, legal enforcement is more readily available with a well written, legally sound agreement that is part of a court order.

Violating the Custody Agreement

If one parent denies visitation or otherwise violates the custody agreement, the other parent should report this violation to the court immediately.  The parent has essentially violated a court order, and legal measures are appropriate.  No one other than a representative of the court may alter a custody agreement or withhold visitation rights once they have been made part of a court order.  In situations where there is concern for the safety of the child, law enforcement should be contacted and the parent should seek legal recourse rather than taking the law into his or her own hands.

When Custody May Be Withheld

If a parent is determined by the court to be abusive or pose a threat to the minor child, the court may withhold custody rights from that parent, or at the very least require that all visitations be supervised.  Once again, this is a decision for the court and should be handled through appropriate legal channels.  A parent who withholds visitation on their own may be found in violation of the custody agreement and subject to legal action.  If a parent suspects abuse or inappropriate behavior, he or she should notify law enforcement or the appropriate family services agency in order to put a halt to, as well as document the behavior.  A legal representative may then use the findings to get the custody and visitation agreement altered appropriately.

It’s a Family Affair

Child custodial agreements can be the most volatile and emotional part of a divorce proceeding.  In addition to legal counsel, parents should be aware that there is a wealth of family service and child advocate agencies available to help with counseling, advice and recommendations, from knowledgeable veterans who have dealt with these issues many times, and can help simplify and clarify with might otherwise seem a hopeless situation.  Sometimes it helps just to know that others have gone through the same painful process and recovered.