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Do Non-Custodial Parents Have Visitation Rights?

One of the key aspects of a California divorce where there are children involved is that the family law court will grant custody of the children to one or both of the parents. This can be sole custody to one parent or joint custody to both parents, and there may be different determinations as to physical custody (with which parent will the child stay) and legal custody (which parent(s) will have the right to make important decisions on the child’s behalf). Where sole custody is granted to only one parent, however, the other parent will in most cases have the right to visitation, which is the legal right to spend some amount of time with the children on an ongoing basis, regardless of the preferences of the custodial parent.

When Visitation is Awarded

An underlying principle of California family law is that the courts will promote ongoing relationships between children and unmarried/divorced parents, except when doing so would be detrimental to the best interests of the child. Thus the law provides that a court should grant “reasonable visitation rights to a parent unless it is shown that the visitation would be detrimental to the best interests of the child.” The best interests of the child go to the safety, security, and emotional and physical needs of the child.

Based on this,a non-custodial parent should be allowed to receive visitation rights unless the other parent can demonstrate to the court why granting such rights would harm the child. Instances in which a court would not grant visitation rights is where the noncustodial parent has a history of domestic violence or drug/alcohol problems that present a current threat to the child’s well-being. Notably, the court may also grant visitation rights not just to parents, but to any other person having an interest in the welfare of the child, including grandparents.

A Parent’s Rights During Visitation

Parents are free to work together to figure out a visitation schedule and structure, and a court will generally approve whatever plan the parents decide on. But where the parents cannot decide on a visitation schedule or system, the court will impose one, again based on the best interests of the children. The court can award various types of visitation, including supervised visitation where there is a concern about the safety of the child based on being with the other parent. With supervised visitation, a neutral third-party will be present during the visitation for the protection of the child and to minimize conflict.

When a noncustodial parent has visitation, this does not change the terms of the custody arrangement during the visitation time. The custodial parent still maintains the parental rights over the child, and so the noncustodial parent cannot make important decisions on the child’s behalf during the visitation period or take other actions inconsistent with the custody order. It is important for both parents to respect the other parent’s rights during visitation periods, and, if not, the court may impose penalties jeopardizing the offending parent’s rights with regard to the children.

Get Help in Your Custody/Visitation Matter

Obtaining the legal right to have continuing contact with your children is one of the most important legal goals you can ever undertake. An experienced, compassionate family lawyer can help you clearly make your arguments to a court for visitation and navigate the family law system to get you the best possible results for you and your children. For help with any family law matters, please contact the Pasadena family law attorneys at Kearney Baker today at 626-768-2945.

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