Child Visitation Agreements
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What are Child Visitation Agreements?
Child visitation agreements may be formed between two parties to a divorce who are seeking to establish visitation schedules with their children. They basically outline the child visitation rights of each parent and determine who is assigned physical custody of the children during specified time periods.
Child visitation agreements may be issued by a judge, but sometimes they are formed between the parents without the court’s intervention. In most states, the court would expect the parents to have a written plan outlining:
- Where the child will live
- A planned visitation schedule
- Who will make important decisions for the child
- Vacation and holiday visitation
- Financial decisions regarding the child
Who is Allowed to Create a Child Visitation Agreement?
In many jurisdictions, a parent who is awarded sole custody of a child is also allowed to set the visitation schedule. The custodial parent creates a proposed visitation agreement and then submits it to the judge for approval. If the court certifies the agreement, the visitation agreement becomes a visitation order, and is enforceable by law.
In some instances, both parents may choose to form the visitation agreement privately without the court’s approval. Such agreements are not issued by the court, but are often enforceable under contract law. However, in the majority of custody cases, the parents are unable to reach a mutual agreement and must rely on a judge who will determine visitation rights.
The parents can also submit a visitation or parenting agreement to a judge for approval before a custody hearing. In this case the agreement is called a “stipulated” agreement, meaning that it has been agreed upon in advance. Judges can usually approve stipulated visitation agreements without a court hearing.
How Do I Create a Valid Visitation Agreement?
The parents can create a valid visitation agreement by negotiating and writing down the agreement yourselves. You can also seek help from a mediator or any other family law specialist.
The best way to create an agreement is to decide on what the important issues that could have a big impact on your child and always make decisions based on the best interests of the child. Be sure to collect and include all relevant documents, including:
- All court documents regarding child custody
- Court orders regarding paternity, divorce, and award of child custody
- Reports, evaluations, letters, and anything else that involves the child
- The child's school and/or activity schedule
What is Contained in a Visitation Agreement?
Depending on the circumstances, a visitation agreement may contain various instructions regarding each parent’s visitation rights. Some of the provisions commonly included in visitation agreements include:
- Visitation Dates for the non-custodial parent: The agreement will indicate on which days or weeks the non-custodial parent can visit the child. If a custody order has been issued, the visitation agreement must follow the principles listed in the custody order.
- Activities: Visitation agreements may list which activities that the non-custodial parent and the child can engage in. Activities are often limited if the child has special medical restrictions or other similar concerns.
- Geographic restrictions: A visitation agreement may specify the geographic area where the non-custodial parent is allowed to be with the child. For example, in many states, the non-custodial parent cannot bring the child or children outside of state boundaries.
- Modifications: The agreement may also contain instructions on how the parents can modify the agreement in the event of changes or unforeseen circumstances. Court-issued visitation agreements can also be modified in the future with a judge’s approval.
Visitation is usually unsupervised but if there are safety concerns for the child, the visitation agreement may require supervised visits. Some visitation agreements may also allow for “virtual visitation” through online video services.
What Happens if Child Visitation Agreements are Violated?
Violations of court-ordered child visitation agreements can often result in legal consequences. These can include criminal penalties such as fines or possible jail time. Violations may also lead to civil penalties such as a contempt order. Failing to obey a custody or visitation order can even lead to a loss of various rights, such as driving privileges.
The most important provisions in a child visitation agreement are those that deal with visitation dates and hours. For example, if a parent retains physical custody of the child beyond the agreed-upon days or hours, it could lead to very serious legal consequences, (such as kidnapping charges). The custodial parent may even be able to sue for civil losses such as emotional damages.
What are Common Violations of Child Custody Agreements?
There are many disagreements that arise during a custody battle. Such disagreements may become violations of the agreement, including:
- Refusing to respect agreed visitation rights
- Taking the child without notice to the other parent
- Badmouthing the other parent in front of the child
- Moving the child to another state without the other parent's or the court's consent
- Engaging in behavior that is not in the child's best interests
Do I Need a Lawyer for Drafting Child Visitation Agreements?
Child visitations are an important part of any custody arrangement. If you are facing issues regarding visitation, you may wish to have a lawyer draft a child visitation agreement for you. Your attorney can assist you in creating and reviewing the agreement, and they can help you file it with the court for approval. Also, in the event of any violations, your lawyer can assist you in filing a complaint or legal claim.
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Last Modified: 08-05-2015 01:38 PM PDT
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