Child Custody and Visitation

When a couple separates, or in the case of unmarried parents, the parties need to decide who will have “custody” of the children and how each parent will be involved in their children’s care. In order to understand how custody and visitation relate, you need to have an understanding of certain terminology:

California child custody and visitation

Types of Custody Arrangements in California

The parties can have several different arrangements regarding legal and physical custody:

Types of Visitation Arrangements

Visitation is based on the amount of time each parent will have the children. In California, either parent can have custody, or the parents can share custody. The judge makes the final decision about custody and visitation but usually will approve the arrangement that both parents agree on. If the parents can’t agree, the judge will make a decision at a court hearing. The judge will not usually make a decision about custody/visitation until after the parents have met with a mediator.

When the parent who has the children for less than half of the time has visitation with the children and has specific set times that visitation occurs.
When the parent who has the children for less than half of the time has visitation with the children but the schedule is open and flexible pursuant to the agreement of the parties.
When the children’s safety and well-being require that visits with the parent be supervised by the other parent, another adult, or a professional agency. Supervised visitation is sometimes also used in cases where a child and a parent need time to become more familiar with each other. This may be the case if a parent hasn’t seen the child in a long time and they need to slowly get to know each other again.
This option is used in situations when visiting with the parent, even with supervision, would be physically or emotionally harmful to the children. In these cases, it is not in the best interest of the child for the parent to have contact with the child.

Custody/Visitation Orders

Under California law, a judge must take into consideration what is in the best interest of the child when making a custody and/or visitation order, taking into consideration:

  • the age of the child,
  • the health of the child,
  • the emotional ties between the parents and the child,
  • the ability of the parents to care for the child,
  • history of family violence and/or substance abuse,
  • the child’s ties to school and home.

In today’s society, courts do not automatically give custody preference to a mother or father based on the age or sex of the children. Also, the court cannot deny a parent’s right to custody or visitation merely because the parties were never married, or because a parent has a physical disability, different lifestyle, religious belief or sexual orientation.

After a judge makes a custody/visitation order, one or both parents may want to change the order. Usually, the judge will approve a new custody and visitation order that both parents agree to. If the parties agree, the order can be modified without a formal hearing. A Stipulation and Order can be prepared and submitted to the Judge for signature, and the new order becomes into effect once processed by the court.

If the parents cannot agree on a change, one parent can ask the court for a change. This is done through a motion process that requires a court hearing and sometimes “mediation.” The parent seeking the modification will need to present facts sufficient to the court to prove that there is a change in circumstances, potential harm to the children or other good reason to change the order. Both parents will meet with an assigned mediator to talk about why the order should be changed prior to the scheduled hearing.

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Motion/Contested Matters (does not include preparation of Orders After  Hrg) Price
Custody or Visitation Motion (RFO) $475
Custody, Visitation and/or Support Motion (RFO) $575
Emergency Custody or Visitation Motion (RFO)
Includes request for temporary orders.
$900 min. (incudes RUSH processing)
Emergency Custody, Visitation, Support Motion
Includes request for temporary orders.
$975 min. (includes RUSH processing)
Custody, Visitation and Support Motion with Paternity Petition $875
Ex Parte to Terminate Child Support at 18 $250
Motion for Change of Venue $575
Motion for Gillmore Election $775
Other specialty motions $575+ requires quote
Motion for Bifurcation and Final Judgment documentation $825
Restraining Order- civil or domestic (no children) $400 min.
Restraining Order (with children) $575 min.