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Bay Area Family Attorneys > Blog > Child Custody Visitation > What is “Reasonable” Parenting Time in California?

What is “Reasonable” Parenting Time in California?


Custody, also known as “parenting time” in California, is always a hot topic when parents of underage children file for divorce. Frequently, parents put off divorce actions because they do not want to deal with the issue of exchanging custody with their spouse. While many families are able to work out situations that maintain a healthy environment in the home, sometimes that is simply not possible. When it comes down to it, sometimes the best thing we can do is work through how to implement a new normal and new custody/parenting time arrangement.

Unless there are compelling reasons not to divide custody, the California court systems will typically require that parenting time arrangements be “reasonable.” But what does the court mean by “reasonable?” and if parents come to an agreement outside of court, do they have to have the court’s input at all? This article aims to shed some light on these common questions.

Parent’s Might Come to a Reasonable Agreement

In the midst of a divorce or separation, California parents can come together outside of a formal court hearing and craft their own parenting time agreement. The best parenting time agreements will be clearly defined, with weekends, dates, pick up times and drop off times clearly labeled and understood by both parties. One common miscommunication that might occur, for example, is the notion that a child will be returned to a parent on “Christmas Eve.” But what does this mean, precisely? Do you have in mind that the child should arrive at your home by four p.m.? By 9 p.m.? Infusing the agreement with sufficient clarity can help to avoid future arguments and miscommunication. It is also important to keep flexibility in mind, as life is unpredictable and modern family’s need to anticipate that sometimes flexibility will be warranted and necessary.

Parents with unpredictable lives or schedules may decide that a more open-ended, reasonable parenting time agreement – that is not formally scheduled – is a better fit for their family. A reasonable parenting time agreement might not dictate which parent will have the children on a specific date, but will contain a method of deciding who will have the children in their care at a given time.

Non-scheduled, reasonable parenting time arrangements can work, but requires a lot of cooperation and effective communication.  To be upheld by the court, the court must approve of the arrangement, meaning that the court has confidence that the arrangement is going to work toward the best interests of the child. If the arrangement agreed to by the parents is not working/reasonable, the court may issue its own version of a reasonable parenting plan.

The Court Can Decide What is Reasonable

If parents cannot agree on parenting time arrangements, or if their own idea of reasonableness is not working or is not approved of by the court, the court may need to assist in crafting a parenting plan. What is “reasonable” in crafting a parenting time plan will depend on many things, and some of the items the court will consider include:

  • Age of the child: for example, in some circumstances the court may deem that a child near the age of puberty may need to spend more time with the parent of the same biological gender. Or that a breastfeeding baby will need to spend more time with the mother, etc.
  • Past and current relationship with each parent, and that parent’s ability to parent the child
  • The child’s school and ability for parents to maintain a healthy continuity/routine
  • Domestic violence or other allegations or convictions of abuse or substance abuse

Do You HAVE to Get a Court’s Approval?

Divorces or separations being processed through the California court system will require parents to put some kind of plan/agreement in place. In most situations the court will need to sign off on the reasonableness of your parenting plan.

Even if you do not have to go through court processes in the dissolution of your relationship, it is advisable to have a parenting agreement submitted to and approved by the court. Doing so will give legal enforceability to the agreement – meaning, that if your co-parent breaks the agreement, you have a record of what the agreement was and that there may now be grounds for further action since the co-parent is in breach. If all you have is a loose agreement between co-parents, it may be impossible to get the courts involved until a more substantial and formal arrangement is filed with the court.

Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young

Our San Francisco child custody lawyers are standing by to help you and your family come to an arrangement that benefits you moving forward. Contact our office to speak with an experienced attorney today.




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