“Visitation” is an unfortunate legal term referring essentially to the time that a parent who does not provide the primary home for his/her children gets to spend with them. “Visitation” is gradually being replaced by the term “parenting plan” which emphasizes co-parenting and substantial involvement by each parent. Nonetheless, in California divorces we still refer to custody and visitation as regards the minor children. The court expects to know, and will decide if necessary, how the parents will share time with the children.
California Family Code Section 3020 states “it is the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage… and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing.”
A parenting plan addresses how the parents are going to co-parent their children. It should always be developed with the best interests of the children in mind. It can be in greater or lesser detail depending on how well the parents are able work together collaboratively and avoid misunderstandings. The most prominent portion of a parenting plan is the “visitation” portion which lays out the time sharing of the children.
Time Sharing Plans
The following time sharing areas are covered in most parenting plans:
- a schedule showing when each parent will be with and be responsible for the children on a week-to-week basis;
- a vacation plan for all school vacations and other possible vacations;
- how specific holidays and special days (such as birthdays) will be handled;
- how exchanges of the children between the parents will be done.
The legal system strongly encourages parents to create their own parenting plan. Judges are in fact prohibited from making parenting plan / visitation orders unless the parents have first seen a court mediator to try to work out a plan themselves.
It’s nearly always best to try to work out a plan with your spouse without involving the court. You have lots of latitude in doing so. If you are having difficulties, a private divorce mediator can usually help. Your plan will rarely be second-guessed by the court when it is submitted in writing.