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Know the Laws: California

UPDATED January 2, 2017

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WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a lawyer in your community for more information on custody. Go to the CA Where to Find Help page for a listing of organizations that can help.  For more information about custody and visitation, you can also visit the California Courts Self Help Center.

Who can get visitation

back to topCan a parent who committed violence get visitation?

Sometimes.  When making a visitation order in a case in which an emergency protective order, protective order, or other restraining order has been issued, the court must consider whether it is in the best interest of the child to have unsupervised visitation or whether the visitation should be supervised by a third party, suspended or denied altogether.*  Your child may be able to give the judge his/her preference about the other parent’s visitation as long as the child is of “sufficient age and capacity [ability] to form an intelligent preference.”  If the child is over 14 years old and wants to talk to the judge about visitation, the judge must allow the child to do so unless it is not in the child’s best interests. Children under 14 years old might be able to talk to the judge as well.**

If the abusive parent uses drugs or abuses alcohol, the judge could make the parent undergo tests for alcohol and illegal drug use if s/he decides that the parent is a frequent or habitual user.  If the tests show that the abuser does use drugs or alcohol, this could be a factor that the judge considers when deciding whether or not to grant him/her visitation.  When deciding if the parent is habitually using, one type of evidence the judge will consider is any convictions for illegal drug use or possession within the past 5 years.***

Note: If you are/were a victim of domestic violence and you believe that your CA custody /visitation order puts your child in a dangerous situation with the other parent, you may want to contact the Family Violence Appellate Project. They work with low-income survivors of abuse in California who want to appeal a court order that was issued within the last 60 days (or who are defending against an appeal filed by the other parent) and who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

* Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 3031(c)
** Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 3042(a),(c),(d)
*** See Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 3041.5

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back to topCan grandparents get visitation?

Sometimes.  Whether or not the parents of the child are married or unmarried, the grandparent will have to prove that s/he has such a close relationship and bond with the grandchild that visitation would be in the best interest of the child.  However, if both parents agree that the grandparent should not be granted visitation rights, or if the one parent who the child lives with (with that parent having sole legal and physical custody over the child or if there is no court order) does not want the grandparent to have visitation, the judge will assume that the visitation of a grandparent is NOT in the best interest of the child.  It is then up to the grandparent to try to change the judge’s mind and prove that the visitation IS in the child’s best interests.

However, if the parents are married, there are additional restrictions that the grandparent has to follow.  The grandparent can file for visitation only if one or more of the following circumstances exist:

  1. The parents are currently living separately on a permanent basis;
  2. One of the parents has been absent for more than one month without the other spouse knowing where s/he is;
  3. One of the parents joins in the petition with the grandparents (consents to the visits);
  4. The child is not living with either parent;
  5. The child has been adopted by a step-parent; or
  6. One of the parents is incarcerated or involuntarily institutionalized.*
* Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 3104 (a)(1)-(2), (b)(1)-(6)

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank Dennis K. Rothhaar for his help in putting together a prior version of this material.

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