Category Archives: Visitation

Can Step-Parents Get Visitation Rights

Can Step-Parents Get Visitation Rights?

Kristen’s husband died when their two children were very young. Three years later, she married Brendan. Soon, Brendan became close to the children, attended ball games, and helped with homework. When Kristen filed for divorce, Brendan was left wondering if step-parents get visitation rights. Would he be allowed to participate in the kids’ lives even though he was not the children’s biological father?

California Visitation Rights, Generally

When parents divorce, they must prepare a parenting plan and submit it to the court for approval. Their plan describes how to split parenting time. Plans typically set out weekly visitation, as well as a holiday schedule.

Child custody also plays a part in visitation. The judge may award sole physical custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody, or joint legal custody. Depending on the type of custody, a child might live with a custodial parent and only visit the non-custodial parent.

But custody and visitation are usually decided between biological parents. What happens when a step-parent like Brendan asks for visitation.

Step-Parents Visitation and the Kids

Despite living with the children for years, Brendan is not legally considered to be their father. As such, he is not automatically qualified to be considered for custody or visitation.

However, step-parents may petition the court for visitation rights. In fact, California law states that:

“Children have a fundamental right to maintain healthy, stable relationships with a person who has served in a significant, judicially approved parental role.”

Courts may consider Brendan to have served as a parent, and award visitation rights to him. Generally, courts might grant visitation rights to anyone who has an interest in the child’s welfare.

Reasons to Deny Step-Parent Visitation Rights

California law specifically states that reasonable visitation rights will be granted, “if visitation by the step-parent is determined to be in the best interest of the child.” However, judges tend to deny step-parent visitation rights if they feel such visitation is not in the best interests of the child.

Call to Learn More About Step-Parents and Visitation Rights

If you are a step-parent who is fighting to visit your step-kids, contact us to learn more about your options. We can also help if you have reasons for blocking step-parent visitation with your children.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce, including child custody and visitation. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, San Diego, Beverly Hills, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), and surrounding communities.

Helping Kids Cope with divorce and COVID-19

Helping Kids Cope with Divorce and COVID-19

Modern life can be hectic, even without complications like divorce and COVID-19. Adult stress levels are at all-time highs right now. But what about our children? How are they handling major lifestyle changes? As a divorced or soon-to-be-divorced parent, helping kids cope with both divorce and COVID-19 may be a high priority. In this article, we offer some tips that may help you and your children. Continue reading

How to Coordinate Summer Vacations with Your Ex

How to Coordinate Summer Vacations with Your Ex

Sophia had planned a great June vacation with her son, Noah. Afterwards, he was heading off to a two-week summer camp in the Rockies. However, Noah’s father, Jack, invited him on a trip to Europe for the exact same time period. Sophia was exasperated because the invitation conflicted with her plans and, more importantly, did not comply with their parenting plan. Jack was supposed to take Noah in July and August, not June. Sophia and Jack had to find a way to coordinate summer vacations. First, they could look back over the arrangements they made during their divorce.

The Parenting Plan

A divorcing couple with kids negotiates a parenting plan as part of their settlement.  It’s sometimes called a custody and visitation agreement because a big part of the plan involves custody and visitation. In fact, parenting plans typically spell out who will have the children at certain times and for how long. Holidays and summer vacations usually are an important part of the negotiations that go into the parenting plan. After parents reach an agreement, a judge signs a custody order binding the parents to the agreement. Does this mean the custody and visitation agreements will never change?

Modifications to the Plan?

It is possible to negotiate changes to a visitation schedule. This may require the court’s approval in certain circumstances. However, the parents may agree on a new way of handling visitation without court intervention. Sophia and Jack share legal custody of Noah, but Sophia has primary physical custody. Most of the time, they have no trouble adjusting their visitation schedule. This time is different, though. Jack’s work schedule has changed, and he would like to have more time with Noah over the summer. They may want to negotiate a modification of their parenting plan and have it approved by the court. But Sophia and Jack’s most important consideration should be what is right for Noah.

What Should You Focus on When You Coordinate Summer Vacations with Your Ex?

What course of action serves the best interests of your child? Maybe there’s no compelling reason to deny your ex’s summer vacation plans. However, if you feel your children may be in danger or harmed in some way by those plans, discuss your options with a divorce attorney immediately. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce proceedings, including child visitation plans and modifications. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), and surrounding communities.
I’m Afraid My Spouse Will Take Our Children Out of State. What Can I Do?

I’m Afraid My Spouse Will Take Our Children Out of State. What Can I Do?

Child custody is complicated. Between physical custody, legal custody, joint custody, sole custody – it’s easy to get confused. However, doing what’s best for the children should be at the forefront of every discussion about child custody. It’s typically best for children to live near both parents, whenever practical, to maintain and foster their relationships. But what happens when it becomes necessary to relocate? Many parents struggle to decide where their children will live and whether the other parent can move the children out of state.

Before the Parenting Plan … and After

Address relocation issues in your parenting plan, if possible. Disagreements about where the children can live may be worked out with a mediator. As always, if parents are unable to agree, the court will decide where the children will live and with whom.

After a parenting plan is put in place, however, things may change. One parent may want to move children to another city or even out of state. Sometimes it is necessary to put the issue before a judge.

Courts try to make all decisions keeping the best interests of the children in mind, and relocation issues are no different. The judge may consider some of the following issues when deciding whether children can be moved out of state:

  • Will the move alter visitation?
  • Will the move hurt the relationship between the child and the parent who is not moving?
  • What type of custody arrangements are already in place?

The parenting plan can be changed by agreement or by court order. The form of custody granted to the parent seeking to move may influence a judge’s decisions about relocation.

The Type of Custody May Matter

Child custody generally falls into these categories:

  • Joint legal custody,
  • Sole legal custody,
  • Joint physical custody, and
  • Sole legal custody.

A parent with sole physical custody may move the children unless the other parent proves that the move will harm the children in some way. For example, Hannah wants to move her children from California to Connecticut to be closer to her family. Jonah, the children’s father, has a very close relationship with his children, and he filed a motion to stop the move. Because of that relationship and the children’s ties to the community, the judge ruled in Jonah’s favor. Hannah was free to move out of state but was not allowed to take the children.

When the parents have joint physical custody, the parent seeking to relocate must prove that the move is beneficial to the children. Let’s say Hannah and Jonah have joint legal custody. Hannah wants to move, but Jonah objects. The burden is on Hannah to prove that the move is good for the kids.

It’s Complicated. We Can Help.

Moving children out of state can be difficult. You need an advocate to help you understand your options.

Judy Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist, and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. Please call our offices at 415-293-8314 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys. We assist clients along the Northern to Central California Coast.

Signs That a Parenting Plan is Not Working

Signs That a Parenting Plan is Not Working

Ask most any parent going through a divorce, and he or she will tell you that the welfare of the kids is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, it does not always play out that way. Kids are human beings, just like adults, and they will react both positively and negatively to various circumstances. It is important for divorcing parents to develop a good parenting plan, and then pay attention. Given the human variable, children may not always fare well under even the best of plans.

An important thing to remember is that children have not reached maturity. As they go through developmental stages, the parenting plan may need to be adjusted. For example, visitation by a non-custodial parent for an infant will be much different than for an adolescent. Along the way after a divorce, parents should be watchful for signs of distress in their children and recognize that it looks different depending on age.

An improperly parented and cared for infant may cry excessively, eat inconsistently or not fully, and not sleep properly. This can lead to growth and development problems such as being underweight and general malaise. Divorced parents who witness these tendencies may want to consider whether their care arrangements are causing any of the problems.

As a child grows during infancy, he becomes more aware of his surroundings and the people in his life. This becomes more relevant as a child reaches the toddler stage. Stress in children at these stages can, in addition to crying, include abnormal attachment to a parent or caregiver, sleep and appetite issues, and attention-getting behavior. Toddlers will begin to express concerns orally, asking about the other parent, refusing instructions, and making demands.

As children get older and start to have interests beyond the home, stress resulting from parenting issues will take other forms. Kids may demonstrate anti-social behavior with peers in school, clubs, and sporting activities, single out one parent for blame, and withdraw from others at home and school. As adolescence is approached, depression can be a sign of parenting issues, as well as aggressive behavior and confusion over loyalty to one parent or the other.

Adolescence can bring a whole host of behavioral problems to children that have nothing to do with a parenting plan. Therefore, it can be hard to discern whether parents are making mistakes. In addition to depression during this stage of development, suicidal thoughts may occur, as well as drug or alcohol use. While withdrawal is a common thing for adolescents, anxiety over parental issues may make it worse, so parents should be sensitive to whether that behavior can be connected to custody transitions or other events involving one parent or the other.

Parenting children is complicated even in the traditional nuclear home. All of the stress-related behaviors mentioned can occur in any family. For divorced parents, however, balancing the custody and care responsibilities for children naturally produces some level of stress. It is important to watch for signs of undue stress and adjust accordingly.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law matters, including complicated parenting plans. We can advise you about the many different issues that can impact the parenting of children after divorce. Contact us today to learn how our attorneys can help you in your case: (415) 293-8314.

Age-Appropriate Parenting Plans

Age-Appropriate Parenting Plans

For divorcing couples with children, perhaps the most important thing to address is a parenting plan. Property and money issues are usually more straightforward because they are assigned a value and appropriated according to legal standards. Deciding what is in the best interest of a couple’s children, however, is never easy.

A parenting plan must be established and approved by the court for the good of both the parents and the children. For the parents, it will define the respective roles to be played in the many and varied important issues involved in raising children. For the children, the plan will be critical to help them adjust to the effects of their parents divorcing. If handled poorly, that outcome can affect children for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps the most important aspect of a parenting plan is the age of each child. Infants, for example, need a consistent schedule for sleeping and eating. They also need physical comfort and bonding with the mother, particularly if being breast-fed. The non-custodial parent should visit on a regular schedule to also promote bonding.

Toddlers also need consistency in their environment, but the environment can be more flexible. Regular time with the non-custodial parent in their home is appropriate at this age, but the rules of each household should be the same for the child. If one parent has the primary parenting role, visits to the other parent should limited to 24 hours at a time. If shared custody is the plan, the time split should be limited to three days at a time.

Children at the pre-school age can adapt to longer periods away from a primary parent, again, with consistent rules in both households. Children at this age begin to need to know in advance when a change in location or caregiver is to occur. A sense of security is important at all points in a child’s developmental years, and at this age range, unexpected change can induce insecurity.

During the childhood years of 6 to 10 years of age, children begin to participate in a world outside the home and control of their parents. This can also cause insecurity, so it is ever more necessary for the parenting plan to provide a safe and secure home environment. Clear plans for time spent with each parent are important, as is the involvement of both parents in school and outside activities. Children need to feel supported by both parents in their school and other activities. This adds to their feelings of security and self-worth.

In pre-adolescence, children’s relationships with people outside the home increase and their time spent with parents starts to decrease. A child will begin to want variations in the parenting arrangement to accommodate his or her outside interests. It is fine for the child to have some say in when and where she will spend time, but it is important to demonstrate that the decision is still made by the parents, preferably together. Parents may need to sacrifice some of their time for the child to participate in outside activities.

The adolescent stage is when the parenting plan begins its descent, so to speak. Kids in this period are becoming more independent as they head for adulthood. They are increasingly in control of their schedules for school, sports, and other extra-curricular activities. Parents need to work together to allow this to occur while maintaining control. Children may try to play their parents off on one another to achieve a goal neither parent would otherwise approve. It is more important than ever for divorced parents to work together supervising adolescent children. At this age, ill-conceived actions by an unsupervised child can have dire consequences.

Obviously, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all parenting plan. The plan must be both rigid and flexible, depending on the needs of the children and the parents. The observations contained herein, however, can provide some insight as to a broad framework within which a plan can be refined.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law matters, including complicated parenting plans. We can advise you about the many different issues that can impact the parenting of children after divorce. Contact us today to learn how our attorneys can help you in your case: (415) 293-8314.

Will a California Judge Listen to My Child’s Preferences About Custody?

Will a California Judge Listen to My Child’s Preferences About Custody?

If you have ever wondered whether a judge will listen to your child’s preferences about custody or visitation, you are not alone. There is a short answer: Yes, under certain circumstances. However, there is much more to the story, and there are common misconceptions about the effect of the child’s preferences.

To understand the longer answer, you have to start with California law. In 2012, the California State Legislature enacted a law to give children more of a voice in custody and visitation matters. The law applies when a child is mature enough by “age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference” about custody or visitation.

The law has a specific provision when the child at least 14 years old, specifically with regard to how the child’s preferences are obtained and presented to the court. For these older children, the court “shall consider, and give due weight to” the child’s wishes unless doing so “is not in the child’s best interest.”

For kids less than 14 years of age, the court may permit the child to express his or her wishes if it is “appropriate pursuant to the child’s best interests.”

Any time a court does not allow a child to testify as a witness, the court must allow alternative means to obtain the child’s input. For example, the court may be informed of the child’s preferences through the child’s lawyer, an evaluator, or a mediator.

There is a common misconception that a court will necessarily do as the child asks.  This is not true. Even when the court does hear from the child, the court is not bound to follow the child’s preference. Rather, the court’s guiding principle is the best interest of the child. For this reason, the court can consider issues such as parent manipulation of the child and the child’s desire to avoid parental rules or discipline.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in child custody and visitation matters and can advise you in detail about how courts deal with these issues. Contact us today to learn how our attorneys can help you in your case: (415) 293-8314.

Supervised Visitation in California

Supervised Visitation in California
Supervised visitation is a tool available to California judges when they want to ensure safety and look out for the best interest of a child. Supervised visitation allows a non-custodial parent to visit with his or her child in a safe environment under the supervision of a neutral third party.

There are several reasons a court might use supervised visitation, such as the following:

  • to allow the child and parent to become acquainted or reacquainted if they have no relationship or have been apart for some time;
  • to prevent the parent from abducting the child:
  • to address concerns about parenting skills or parental mental illness; and
  • to allow the parent and child to see each other even though there may be concerns about child abuse or neglect.

The legislature’s top priority in supervised visitation is “the safety of children, adults, and visitation supervisors.” After safety is assured, the paramount consideration is “the best interest of the child.”

California law allows for professional, paid providers to supervise visitation. However it also permits this need to be met by a nonprofessional provider, who is often a family member or friend. In either case, the law strictly regulates the qualifications of supervising providers. Regardless, the following three criteria apply:

  • no prior convictions for crimes against the person, including child molestation or abuse;
  • “no current or past court order in which the provider is the person being supervised”; and
  • if the person will be transporting the child, proof of current automobile insurance.

Professional providers must receive extensive training in many areas, including the following:

  • the responsibilities and duties of providers and their specific role;
  • laws relating to child abuse reporting, family law, and juvenile law;
  • child development needs;
  • cultural sensitivities; and
  • confidentiality

Supervised visitation sessions may be terminated if rules are violated, the child is “acutely distressed,” or a safety issue is present.

Supervised visitation provides an important means for a child to build or maintain a relationship with his or her noncustodial parent. If you need legal assistance in a hotly contested child custody or visitation matter, the attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger will provide respectful legal support. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can help: (415) 293-8314.

What Does It Mean to Establish Paternity?

What Does It Mean to Establish Paternity
Most people know that establishing paternity relates to naming someone as a child’s legal parent. However, many people are less clear about why it is important to establish paternity, also known as parentage.

When a child’s mother is married at the time the child is conceived or born, the person to whom she is married is automatically presumed to be the other parent, unless the court finds otherwise based on evidence before it. This presumption also applies to certain couples in registered domestic partnerships, as well as to situations in which the second parent openly treated the child as his or her own.

However, if the mother is not married at the time the child is born, the child does not have a second legal parent. In these cases, California provides two simple ways to establish parentage: a formal declaration of paternity or a court order.

In either case, once someone is established as a child’s legal parent, he or she gains both rights and responsibilities relating to the child. Only after parentage is established may that parent exercise parental rights, such pursuing custody and visitation. Additionally, until parentage is established, a person cannot be held legally responsible to pay child support.

While custody, visitation, and child support are all important reasons to establish parentage, there are many others:

  • The child’s right to inherit from the parent;
  • The child’s right to certain benefits related to the parent, such as Social Security and veteran’s benefits;
  • The child’s ability to access family medical records and history;
  • The right to recover certain government-provided benefits on behalf of the child;
  • The presence of the person’s name as a parent on the child’s birth certificate; and
  • The child’s ability to recover as a health or life insurance beneficiary from the person.

In addition to these concrete benefits, California law recognizes that “knowing one’s father is important to a child’s development.”

Declaration of Paternity

The simplest way to establish parentage is through a declaration of paternity signed voluntarily by both parents. This is a state-created a form that has the same effect as a court order when it is filed with the California Department of Child Support Services. By law, birthing hospitals and prenatal clinics must provide a voluntary declaration of paternity to an unmarried mother. The declarations are also available for free “at all local child support agency offices, offices of local registrars of births and deaths, courts, and county welfare departments.”

A parent who signs a declaration of paternity waives several legal rights, such as the right to have a court decide the issue of paternity and the right to legal representation in paternity proceedings.

Court Order

A court order is the second way parentage may be established when a mother is unwed at conception or birth. Either parent may petition a court to establish parentage. For example, a mother may ask a court to enter an order establishing a biological father as her child’s legal father. After this is done, the mother can pursue child support from the father. Similarly, a biological father may ask a court to establish him as the father, after which he may pursue custody or visitation with the child.

Parentage is the basis for many rights and responsibilities under California law. If you are involved in a parentage dispute, you want an attorney with substantial experience in Northern California who will represent you aggressively. Please contact the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.