A court usually sets visitation at the same time the court issues custody orders.

Usually when one parent is awarded sole physical custody, reasonable visitation rights will be given to the other parent. An exception to this rule is where visitation would be harmful (detrimental) to the child’s best interests.

In situations where the parents are awarded joint physical custody, the purpose of setting visitation is to set a visitation schedule—outlining the times the child “visits” with mother and “visits” with father.

It is not enough for the court to merely issue a court order on physical custody—joint or sole. A successful visitation schedule with include outlining “visits” for the following events:

  • Major holidays (New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, etc.)
  • Birthdays—the child’s birthday, father’s birthday, mother’s birthday
  • Minor holidays (President’s day, Columbus Day, Martin-Luther King Day)
  • Spring breaks
  • Winter breaks
  • Summer breaks

The more discord that exists between a couple, the more important it is for the court to issue specific orders on other visitation-related issues.

Visitation orders can and should also include the following issues:

  • Illnesses—of child or parents (to include major and minor)—to include how they affect missed school days;
  • Right of first refusal (situations where non-custodial parent is first person contacted in the event custodial parent needs an unscheduled baby-sitter or daycare.
  • Drop-off and pick-up locations—neutral or one parent’s home.
  • Necessity to change visitation schedule to accommodate schedule changes for parents or children, e.g. need to work late, soccer practice, etc.
  • Window period for pick-up and drop-off times, with reasonable consequences, in order to minimize tardiness or non-compliance of the parents.
  • Whether or not the parties are allowed to “make up” missed time or visits.

The law reflects, and the court enforces, the rights of a child. Specifically, it is a child’s legal right to engage in continuance and ongoing visitation with BOTH parents.

Countless studies reflect that a bad parent is better than no parent. As a child grows, he or she will need the parenting of both parents. At certain times, the child will need his or her father more than his or her mother; and, at other times, the reverse. Parents who insist on doing anything and everything possible to deprive the other parent of the child must consider that they are setting the stage for bigger problems down the road. For instance, the mother who successfully eliminates the father from her son’s life—will eventually deal with an unruly and angry teenager who will, statistically, find solace in conduct that is detrimental to his welfare (cutting, sex—to include unprotected sex-- drugs, alcohol, criminal behavior); the mom who successfully eliminates father from her daughter’s life—will eventually deal with a rebellious female teenager who will, statistically, engage in premature sexual behavior and other risky behavior.

In situations where it is not advisable to leave the child alone with the non-custodial parent, the court will strongly consider whether “supervised” visitation is an option. Supervised visitation can occur, for instances, in cases relating to child abuse (to include sexual abuse), drug abuse, or in any other situation where it would be against the child’s best interests to be left alone with the non-custodial parent.

For further information on this topic, please visit and subscribe to Ms. Garrett’s California Family Law and Divorce Blog

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