Child Custody and Visitation
California courts aim to ensure that both parents have frequent and continuing contact with each minor child. When awarding custody and visitation, the Court has wide discretion to order a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the minor child. The Court has to consider various factors when making a custody and visitation order, including:
The health, safety, and welfare of the child;
Any history of abuse by one parent against the child or against the other parent;
The nature and amount of contact between the child and both parents;
The habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances, the habitual or continual abuse of alcohol, or the habitual or continual abuse of prescribed controlled substances by either parent.
The Court may not base a custody order on either parent’s gender.
When a parent files a request for order regarding child custody and visitation, the Court sets a mandatory mediation session. Both parents must attend this session and attempt to reach an agreement prior to appearing before the Court. If the parents reach an agreement, that agreement becomes the order of the Court. If the parents are unable to come up with the terms for child custody and visitation, they then appear before the Court and present testimony and evidence. The Court then makes its order following that hearing.
If the custody and visitation order is not followed by one or both of the parents, or if either of the parents determines that the current order is no longer in the best interest of their child, they may seek another order from the Court. Custody and visitation orders are modifiable throughout the child’s minority, because the best interests of the child may change over time. However, once a final (rather than a temporary) court order is issued, the parent requesting a modification must demonstrate that a significant change of circumstances exists, which would warrant a modification of the custody order.
Of course, the parents are always encouraged to attempt to resolve custody disputes among themselves before resorting to the Court for help. However, the strong emotions involved in child custody disputes oftentimes prevent amicable resolution of the issue between the parents. Even in the most heated cases though, it is important that neither parent disparages or speaks negatively about the other parent to their child or within their child’s hearing.