Custody and visitation in the Los Angeles divorce proceedings
How can parents decide on a parenting plan?
Parents who are separated should have a parenting plan to decide how they will share parenting responsibilities. A parenting plan must be in writing and signed by both parties and a judge to be enforceable.
What if the parents can’t agree on a parenting plan?
If the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan on their own, they can go to court and ask a judge for a temporary order. The Court will first send them to the Conciliation Court, where a trained mediator will try to help the parties agree on a parenting plan. In Los Angeles, conciliation services are free. An appointment can be made by calling Conciliation Services at (213) 974-5524.
If the parties still cannot agree, the Court will enter a temporary custody and visitation order that is in the best interest of the children. The temporary order will continue until the parties reach an agreement or until custody and visitation are resolved after a trial.
If the parents cannot agree on custody and visitation, they can also ask the court to appoint a mental health expert, such as a psychologist, to conduct a custody evaluation. A list of custody evaluators can be found on the Los Angeles Court website at http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org.
What does a parenting plan include?
When parents decide on a parenting plan, they should develop a plan around the needs and best interests of their children and not their needs or schedules. In other words, they must fit the plan to the children, not the children to the plan. Parents must consider their children’s need for love, emotional support, and security. Parents must take into account the age, personality and experiences of their children. Children will generally be better off when both parents are involved and participating in their education.
Any parenting plan will have to foresee who gets “legal” custody and who gets “physical” custody of the children.
“Legal” custody means which parent can make important decisions about the children’s education, religious upbringing, medical treatment, and other legal decisions. If one of the parents can make these decisions, they will have “sole legal custody.” If both parents make these decisions together, they
have “joint legal custody.” It is rare for one parent to be awarded sole legal custody unless there is a history of the parents not being able to communicate. To decide on issues related to legal custody, the “Joint Legal Custody Attachment” form FL-341 (E), which has been approved by the Judicial Council of California, is helpful. It can be found at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/.
“Physical” custody means who the children live with on a daily basis. A parent has “sole” physical custody if the child’s primary residence is with that parent. The non-custodial parent has visitation rights. Parents have “joint” physical custody if children live with each parent for significant periods of time during the week.
A parenting plan must be consistent and detailed. You should specify who receives the children, when, and where in enough detail so that it is easy to understand and enforce. The important questions are who has the kids during the week and on the weekends? Who transports the children for exchanges and activities? Who welcomes the children during the holidays and vacations? For ideas on parenting plans, you can refer to the forms “Child Custody and Visitation Attachment FL-311 and” Child Vacation Schedule Attachment. “These forms have been approved by the Judicial Council of California and they can be found at http: // www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/.
Are there typical parenting plans?
The answer is no. Each parenting plan must be tailored to the needs of each family. However, the following are examples of timeshares that often form the basis of parenting plans.
Freeman’s Order: One parent has primary custody and the other parent has visitation on alternate weekends and one night a week.
2-2-3 timeshare: In week one, Parent 1 has physical custody on Mondays and Tuesdays (2), Parent 2 has Wednesdays and Thursdays (2), and Parent 1 has Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (3). In the second week, parent 2 has Monday and Tuesday, parent 1 has Wednesday and Thursday, and parent 2 has Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and so on.
2-2-5-5 timeshare: generally more appropriate for older children. In week one, parent 1 has physical custody on Monday and Tuesday (2), parent 2 has Wednesday and Thursday (2), parent 1 has Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday (5). In the second week, parent 2 has Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (5), and so on.
Some state courts have developed model parenting plans that take into account what is appropriate for children of different ages. The Arizona State Supreme Court has developed a model parenting plan that can be found at: [http://www.supreme.state.az.us/dr/Text/ModelPTPlans.htm].
Any tips for making a parenting plan work?
o Use a calendar so that each of you knows the children’s schedules. Put it in a place that is easy for you and the children to see.
o Communicate in a civil and timely manner with the other parent when scheduling conflicts arise. The more notice you give, the better. These days, email and other online calendar tools can be effective.
o Never put children in the middle of fights.
How do we modify a parenting plan if circumstances change?
Once a court has signed a parenting plan, the parties can change the plan through an agreement that they then present to the court. If they cannot agree, one of the parties can request that the court modify the plan. If the plan is part of a final custody determination, that party must prove that a change is in the best interest of the children and must also show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
I am afraid that my spouse poses a threat to children when they visit him. What I can do?
If there has been domestic violence or one parent believes that the other poses a risk to the children, the Court may order supervised or monitored visitation. Visits can be supervised by a professional or non-professional monitor, such as a friend or family member. When choosing non-professionals, parents should choose more than one so that visits are not missed due to lack of a monitor.
The other parent wants to move out of state. What I can do?
In recent years, various appellate court decisions have resolved the following rule regarding moving. If there has not been a court order, the Court sees the best interests of the children. If there has been a court order and one of the parents wants to modify that order by moving out of state, the legal standard depends on whether the court order provides for joint custody. If the parents have joint custody, the court decides what is best for the child. However, if one parent has primary physical custody (more than 60%), it is much more difficult for the non-custodial parent to avoid moving. They must show that the move is done in bad faith or that it would be detrimental to the child’s well-being.