Custody and Visitation Plans in California

While you and your minor child’s parent may have legitimate issues with one another, you can both agree that your child’s well-being is of utmost importance. A custody and visitation plan, also known as a parenting plan, helps you achieve that goal by formally establishing the expectations and responsibilities of each parent in the event of a divorce, like the amount of time each parent will get with the child.

Parenting plans in California

A parenting plan can specify a general parenting schedule as well as things like where the child will live, how visitation will work, who will make decisions for the child, and how disputes will be resolved.

Parenting plans are typically created when parents are separating or divorcing, but they can also be helpful for parents who are still together but disagree on parenting arrangements. A parenting plan can help minimize conflict and keep both parents aligned in their expectations for raising their children.

You and your co-parent may be able to draft a parenting plan together. Check out our free downloadable parenting plan worksheet for help structuring your plan.

Some parents decide to talk to an attorney when drafting their plan. However you go about it, remember that a parenting plan may need to be amended and updated over time, so flexibility is key.

Who gets legal custody? Who gets physical custody?

When it comes to custody, there are two main types: legal and physical

Legal custody entails the right to make decisions about a child's welfare such as where they live, which doctors they see, and where they attend school. Physical custody entails living with the child. Most often, parents share both legal and physical custody, but it’s also possible to have one without the other.

If parents are unable to agree on the details of a parenting plan, the court will create one for them. In most cases, the court will award joint legal custody and shared physical custody to both parents, though one parent will be the primary custodian. In this case, the other parent is known as the non-custodial parent.

Legal and physical custody can be awarded in different ways depending on the situation. If one parent is deemed unfit or unable to care for a child, the other parent may be given sole parental responsibility. If one parent has a work schedule that frequently sends them away from home, shared physical custody may be awarded instead. 

Ultimately, the court's goal is to create a plan with a parenting time schedule that meets the best interests of the child.


What should we include in our parenting plan?

When creating your plan, consider all the logistics that come with raising a child. For example, you’ll probably want a time-sharing schedule that details things like who the child will be with on holidays and who will take the child to doctor’s appointments, soccer games, and more.

A parenting plan provides clarity and structure for separated or divorcing parents. It allows both parents to have a say in how the child is raised.

If you and your ex cannot agree on child custody arrangements, a custody schedule, or parenting time and the court takes over, they will look at things like which parent has been the primary caregiver in the past and which parent is more involved in the child’s life. They may also look at each parent’s financial situation and, if applicable, whether either parent has a history of abuse or neglect.

How can we craft a plan without the court getting involved?

If you’re struggling to agree with your co-parent in custody or visitation terms but want to keep the court out of the process, consider working with a mediator. If both parents agree to mediation, you may be able to reach a suitable resolution without going to court. Mediation is cheaper and faster than the court model of conflict resolution.

How can I enforce a court order in California?

In California, a court order is enforceable by law. This means that if either parent refuses to comply with the terms of the parenting plan, the other parent can take legal action to enforce it, such as filing a motion for contempt. The motion must outline why the other parent is not following the court orders and how this affects the child. The court may then order the other parent to comply or face consequences such as fines, jail time, or loss of custody rights.

Enforcing a parenting plan isn't easy or fast, and it can be complicated. However, it is worth it because your child's relationship with both parents is crucial to their development. It’s a good idea to seek the advice of an attorney if you find yourself in this situation.

If you’re struggling to agree upon or enforce a custody or visitation plan in California, Hello Divorce can help. Visit our services page to read about our online mediation and attorney services. Or, click here to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with one of our account coordinators for guidance.

Watch: Do I have to share custody 50/50 with my ex after divorce?


Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.