Child Custody and Visitation

The question of child custody and visitation is determined by the court when one parent files one of the following lawsuits:

1. Complaint To Establish Paternity

2. Complaint To Establish Parental Relationship

3. Petition for Dissolution/Nullity/Legal Separation

4. Domestic Violence Prevention Action

In determining the custody and visitation plan, the court looks to the Family Code.

There are a number of basic concepts listed as factors to be considered.

It is presumed that frequent and continued contact with both parents is in the child’s best interests.

There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.

Joint legal custody is preferred under the law. This means that both parents have legal rights related to the child.

They can have access to the child’s school, medical and dental records. They can each sign for non-emergency medical and dental care.

Parents can designate areas of joint consent as a factor of joint legal custody:

1.    Driver’s license
2.    Marriage license
3.    Abortions
4.    Religious training
5.    Or other areas of interest to the parents

The judge very seldom allows sole legal custody. It occurs only in extreme cases. For example, if a parent is a convicted child abuser and has supervised visitation. Another example is when hostilities between the parties is so great that they can’t share parenting responsibilities.

Physical custody may be called joint, shared, or sole.

Joint and shared physical custody means the same thing. These terms are generally used where each parent has a substantial time with the child.

The following questions help determine which parent should be awarded physical custody:
           

1. Who spends the most time with the child.

2. Who provides the daily needs: feeding, changing diapers, giving baths,      combing hair

3. Who gets up during the night when the child is ill

4. Who takes the child to the doctor or the dentist

The actual sharing plan can be undefined if the parents get along and share by agreement.

If the parents need more structure to their sharing plan, specific times should be designated.

Sole physical custody is generally awarded where the child spends a substantial amount of time with one parent.

The non-custodial can be referred to as the person’s share of care, custody, and control, or visitation.

Visitation with the non-custodial parent goes along the lines of alternating the weekends and some mid week contact.

The parents usually share the holidays and each has a period of uninterrupted time during non-school months for vacation.

Psychological studies have shown that the younger the child, more frequent, less lengthy visitation is appropriate. For example, an ideal visitation plan for an infant may be every day or two for a few hours. Whereas, a one year old may stay for one or two overnights.

Two-years olds generally can visit for a full weekend, but visits of longer than four or five days may be inappropriate. Four or five year olds may visit for one week.

Remember the older the child the more lengthy and less frequent the visitation.

The underlining philosophy is that custody and visitation should reflect the history of the party’s commitment to parenting.

Custody and visitation are referred to a mediation process. More information about mediation can be found in Tips on Child Custody Mediation in Stanislaus County. This book is available for $29.99 (includes postage and handling) by ordering through Paypal on this website.

Common Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

Children exposed to domestic violence exhibit symptoms similar to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Symptoms can include:

Other behaviors that might be seen in children coming from violent homes include:

Young children with limited verbal skills are more likely to develop physical problems and regress to earlier developmental behavior like bedwetting, thumb sucking, or clinging.

Stress in the Home

I want to focus on stress in the home because it is profoundly related to kids’ ability to do well in the classroom and, when they grow up, in the workforce.

Consider the all-too common case of kids witnessing their parents fighting.  The simple fact is that children find unresolved marital conflict deeply disturbing.  Kids cover their ears, stand motionless with clenched fists, cry, scowl, ask to leave, beg parents to stop.  Study after study has shown that children – some as young as 6 months – react to adult arguments physiologically, such as with a faster heart rate and higher blood pressure.  Kids of all ages who watch parents constantly fight have more stress hormones in their urine.  They have more difficulty regulating their emotions, soothing themselves, focusing their attention on others.  They are powerless to stop the conflict, and the loss of control is emotionally crippling.  As you know, control is a powerful influence on the perception of stress.  This loss can influence many things in their lives, including their schoolwork.  They are experiencing allostatic load.

I have firsthand experience with the effects of stress on grades.  I was a senior in high school when my mother was diagnosed with the disease that would eventually kill her.  She had come home late from a doctor’s visit and was attempting to fix the family dinner.  But when I found her, she was just staring at the kitchen wall.  She haltingly related the terminal nature of her medical condition and then, as if that weren’t enough, unloaded another bombshell.  My dad, who had some prior knowledge of Mom’s condition, was not handling the news very well and had decided to file for divorce.  I felt as if I had just been punched in the stomach.  For a few seconds I could not move.  School the next day, and the following 13 weeks, was a disaster.  I don’t remember much of the lectures.  I only remember staring at my textbooks, thinking that this amazing woman had taught me to read and love such books, that we used to have a happy family, and that all of this was coming to an end.  What she must have been feeling, much worse than I could ever fathom, she never related.  Not knowing how to react, my friends soon withdrew from me even as I withdrew from them.  I lost the ability to concentrate, my mind wandering back to childhood.  My academic effort became a train wreck.  I got the only D I would ever get in my school career, and I couldn’t have cared less. 

Even after all these years, it is still tough to write about that high school moment.  But it easily illustrates this second, very powerful consequence of stress, underscoring with sad vengeance our Brain Rule:  Stressed brains do not learn the same was as non-stressed brains.  My grief at least had an end-point.  Imagine growing up in an emotionally unstable home, where the stress seems never-ending.  Given that stress can powerfully affect learning, one might predict that children living in high-anxiety households would not perform as well academically as kids living in more nurturing households.

That is exactly what researchers have found.  Marital stress at home can negatively affect academic performance in almost every way measurable, and at nearly any age.  Initial studies focused on grade-point averages over time.  They reveal striking disparities of achievement between divorce and control groups.  Subsequent investigations showed that even when a couple stays together, children living in emotionally unstable homes get lower grades.  (Careful subsequent investigations showed that it was the presence of overt conflict, not divorce, that predicted grade failure).  They also do worse on standardized math and reading tests.

The stronger the degree of conflict, the greater the effect on performance.  Teachers typically report that children from disrupted homes rate lower in both aptitude and intelligence.  Such children are three times as likely to be expelled from school or to become pregnant as teenagers, and five times as likely to live in poverty.  As social activist Barbara Whitehead put it, writing for the Atlantic Monthly:  “Teachers find many children emotionally distracted, so upset and preoccupied by the explosive drama of their own family lives that they are unable to concentrate on such mundane matters are multiplication tables.”

Physical health deteriorates; absenteeism and truancy increase.  The absenteeism may occur because stress is depleting the immune system, which increases the risk of infection.  Though the evidence is not as conclusive, a growing body of data suggests that children living in hostile environments are at greater risk fro certain psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders.  Such disorders can wreak havoc on cognitive processes important to successful academic performance.  As children grow up, the effects of childhood stress can stay with them.  Indeed, performance can take a negative hit regardless of one’s age, even if you were a previously high functioning and much admired employee.

Sources for Stress in the Home: Book - Brain Rules. Articles - Rob Gleeson of Gleeson Counseling.