In a divorce, if the court awards one parent with physical custody of a child, the court typically awards the non-custodial parent with visitation rights.  Despite its name, visitation rights with a child are considered a privilege under the law instead of an automatically granted right.  Keep in mind that a family court can deny the noncustodial parent visitation rights but still order the non-custodial parent to pay child support to the parent with physical custody of the child.  As far as the family court is concerned, visitation rights and child support responsibilities and child visitation rights are two separate matters and one does not necessarily correlate with the other.  

An agreement between the parents or a court order, if the parents cannot come to an agreement can determine visitation rights.  Generally, courts will consider the wishes of the child when evaluating visitation and custody issues, if he or she is of the appropriate age.  The type of visitation and the length of each visit may be decided based on the age of the child.

To prevent conflicts, a parenting plan can include how the visitation will be handled by each parent.  The parents can create an agreement that can include specific information regarding:

  • Pick up and drop off locations and times;
  • How the parents will exchange the child;
  • Overnight visits;
  • Specified weekends; and
  • A schedule concerning birthdays, special occasions, and holidays.

A court may order supervised visitation between a parent and child when the child’s safety and well-being require that a professional agency or another adult supervise the child’s visits with that parent.  In situations where a child could be physically or emotionally harmed due to contact with a parent, the court has the authority to order that that parent have no visitation with his or her child.  If necessary, the court can appoint a guardian ad litem, or an attorney to represent the child’s interests. 

Custodial parent versus non custodial parent

The custodial parent has primary physical custody of his or her child.  The child does not live with his or her non-custodial parent except when the non-custodial parent has visitation rights that allow for it.  Typically, the courts encourage regular and frequent visitation with the child when it does not interrupt a child’s school schedule and when his or her parents live in the same locality.  If the parents live a significant distance from each other, the court usually provides for liberal visitation during the child’s summer vacations and school breaks.

Who determines the guidelines for visitation?

Many states have passed new laws that require a child’s parents to make a parenting agreement.  A parenting agreement allows the parents to create a reasonable visitation plan for their child as long as the plan is in the child’s best interests.  The parents can negotiate visitation rights by themselves or with the assistance of a neutral third party mediator.  A mediator can help the parents discuss each of their needs with the ultimate goal of both parents reaching a mutually acceptable agreement without the parents having to go to court to settle visitation issues.

If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court may intervene.  After the court determines a parent’s visitation rights, it will develop a schedule that the parents and the child must follow.

Visitation schedule

There are various forms or schedules for child visitation.  The term “reasonable visitation” allows the parents to specify the times and dates for visitation.  Having a “scheduled visitation” agreement gives a specific and fixed schedule of when visitation will happen.  Regardless of your status as either the custodial or non-custodial parent, a basic child visitation schedule may look like the following:

  • Email and telephone contact by the noncustodial parent;
  • Sharing  the child during winter, spring and summer school breaks; 
  • Mid-week visitation with the non-custodial parent 
  • Alternating weekend visitation with the non-custodial parent, which would include any three-day weekends; 
  • The child spends Mother’s Day with his or her mother and Father’s Day with his or her father;
  • The child alternates spending holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur with one parent one year and the other parent the next year ;
  • Parents alternate having the child on his or her birthday;
  • The occasional exchange of a few days of visitation as the parents’ schedules allow to which both parents agree without a court ordered modification; and
  • Emergency situations that can necessitate that the other parent take physical custody of the child temporarily.  

Additionally, when parents create a visitation schedule and a parenting plan, they should be able to create the schedule based on the age and gender of their child.  The parents should also work to keep the child visitation schedule flexible and feasible because as their child gets older, he or she may want to spend more time participating in after school activities or with his or her friends.

Whatever your child visitation concerns are, we encourage you to contact us today and schedule a consultation to discuss your needs. No one should navigate the legal environment on their own. It’s important to work with someone who is familiar with the local courts, other attorneys, and judges who may be making decisions about your case. Call a child visitation attorney from The Alsandor Law Firm today at (713) 352-3506.