A recent ruling out of California’s Third District Court of Appeals is a source of some good advice for any parent who wants more visitation time with or custody of their kids: show up for the visits you have already.
The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department arrested Mother and Father in January 2013, following an incident in which Mother allegedly assaulted Father and Father brandished a firearm. The couple’s two children were placed in protective custody. Workers for the County Department of Health and Human Services reported that the home was dirty and cluttered with items that Mother had hoarded, leaving the children without a useable bedroom. The children were dirty, according to the workers, and their hair was matted and their feet covered with dry dirt.
The cops, meanwhile, said the home contained rat feces and a strong odor. They also said that 30 Oxycodone pills were missing from a prescription obtained just four days earlier and that the children had easy access to both medication and marijuana being grown in the home. They further noted that a rifle was improperly stored within reach of the kids. A judge ordered that the children be detained and placed in a temporary foster home. The judge also allowed each parent to have limited, supervised visitation with the kids. Husband filed for divorce from Wife roughly one week later.
In March 2014, more than one year after the kids had been detained, a trial court ordered that Mother and Father share legal custody over the children. It granted Father sole physical custody, however, and allowed Mother one supervised visit per month. In reaching the decision, the court noted that Mother had missed a number of scheduled visits with the kids and had behaved erratically when she did attend the visits. Among other behavior, the court said Mother argued with her oldest boy and refused to explain to the younger son – who was often upset by her absences – why she missed visits. A social worker expressed concern about Mother’s ability to control her behavior around the kids.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Third District said the lower court didn’t abuse its discretion in awarding physical custody to Father and limiting Mother’s visits. “[T]he juvenile court must look to the best interests of the child under all the circumstances,” the Court explained. “The trial court is accorded wide discretion and its determination will not be disturbed on appeal absent a manifest showing of abuse.”
While it may have been in the youngest child’s best interests to have frequent visits with his mother, the Court said her inability to show up for the meetings on a consistent basis was likely having a negative effect. The Court observed that the boy “did not desire only that visitation be ordered; he also desired that it occur.” It added that “Mother had a history of failing to show up for scheduled visits, which caused [Son] to be very upset.” This history, according to the Cour,t showed that Mother was either unable or unwilling to make the boy a priority in her life.
This case is a fairly extreme example of the kind of behavior that can cost a parent child custody and visitation time. It’s a good lesson, however, about the need for a parent to show up for and actively participate in the visitation sessions that he or she gets if the parent wants more time with the kids.
If you’re considering a divorce or child custody and visitation issues in California, contact San Jose child custody lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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