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The Four Major Decisions in a Divorce, Part 3: Child Custody and Visitation

In this series of articles, our firm is taking a closer look into the major decisions that affect all divorces. Last month, we discussed spousal support and property division.

When your family includes children, your divorce must consider additional matters. This month, we are diving into those topics.

Child custody can be one of the most contentious, difficult parts of any divorce. It’s hard for parents to balance the need to be with their children with the pragmatic realities of life. All outcomes must be in the child’s best interests, and those conclusions can contradict the parent’s best interests.

Each state treats custody a little differently. Some designate an “A Parent” and a “B Parent,” with A having primary custody. Others can be more rigid, never giving the secondary parent official, “joint” custody.

California uses a percentage system for its child custody decisions. This percentage represents the amount of time each parent has with the children. For instance, one parent may have them for 70% of the year, and the other has them for 30%. Close percentages are rare. Even in the best-case scenarios, making kids spend 50% of their time with each parent can be a burden on everyone.

During your divorce, someone will create a parenting plan. If parents can negotiate, they will work on this plan together. When they can’t, the court will do it for them. The parenting plan will assign a percentage of custody to each parent.

Factors That Influence Child Custody Percentages in California

Job Schedules

Any combination of schedules can influence your ability to be with the kids. One parent works during the day; the other works at night. One has free weekends; the other doesn’t. It may take careful planning and a lot of time to create a schedule that makes sense for everyone.

Outside Support

Never underestimate how much outside forces affect your ability to raise children. Imagine the following scenario. One spouse has many friends and relatives in the area who can help with the kids, but the other is mostly on their own. They spend time with these outside people as their extended family. Now imagine this couple getting divorced.

Friends and family tend to take “sides” after a divorce, and that second spouse could be left with little to no help raising the kids. Even if this parent has plenty of time to be with the children, they may not be able to practically manage the job alone. You must consider these scenarios when assigning custody percentages.

The Children’s Lives

It can be hard to remember that your kids are independent people with lives of their own. This fact becomes clearer as they age. You must consider their extracurricular activities, friendships, relatives, and more to make a fair plan.

As they grow older, kids also want a greater amount of input. This could mean that they want more or less time with a particular parent. You should brace yourself for these changes and realize that they will impact your percentage, one way or another.

If your child has special needs, this will also create a huge impact on custody percentages. Simply getting the child from one location to another can be an ordeal. Both houses must be stocked with necessary supplies, and each parent needs access to medical facilities.

The Distance Between Parents

For many families, distance has a greater impact on custody percentages than anything else. Imagine trying to maintain a 50/50 custody split, even if you live just a few miles apart. This means that both parents must be able to get the kids to and from school half the time.

The further apart you are, the greater the impact will be on your time with the kids. Remember, all custody percentages must be in the child’s best interests. If you cannot live close to the kids, you must be prepared to sacrifice some of your time with them.

Custody vs. Visitation

In most situations, visitation can be treated as separate from custody. It is time spent with the kids, but it’s not the same as, say, living with them on weekends.

Visitation is time that you overtly build into your parenting plan. You can, for instance, visit the kids every other Wednesday from 7:00 – 8:00 pm. Visitation can give you extra time with the kids without worrying about adjusting custody percentages.

You can also schedule electronic visits. This includes phone calls, video chats, and so on. The law takes electronic visits just as seriously as in-person visits. The other parent cannot block or reschedule them without permission.

Later this month, we will end this series by discussing child support.

If you have concerns about child custody or visitation rights, our firm can help. For a free consultation, fill out our online contact form, or call us today at (951) 779-1610.