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Child Visitation Overview

When a couple divorces or separates, there is an added hurdle of dealing with custody and visitation arrangements for their children. Not only can the end of a relationship be stressful, but if there are children who are caught in the middle, added layers of frustration and emotional duress may also come into play.

Where a parent once spent every day and holiday with her or his children, a divorce or separation could threaten their daily routine as they know it. The thought of not being able to see a person’s children whenever they choose, or not being able to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah together, can be frightening. It is not uncommon for parents to become bitter, especially when attempting to arrange child visitation and custody arrangements.

In making a child custody and visitation arrangement, the parent who is designated as the custodial parent will have primary custody, while the non-custodial parent will usually be given visitation rights. Other agreements may involve joint physical custody, which means the child will go to both homes and share her time equally with her parents.

In cases that one parent has primary custody, the other parent must petition the court with a proposed schedule to receive a court order in regard to visitation. A visitation schedule is not legally binding without a court order, and family law lawyers frequently help clients develop a parenting plan that is acceptable to both parties.

In a best-case scenario, parents will work together to create a plan that both agree upon, and then submit it to the court for approval. In cases that involve parents with animosity towards one another and who are unwilling to communicate, creating a parenting plan is much more difficult. Without mutual cooperation, visitation schedules can be rigid, and may cause even more animosity.

All custody and visitation agreements must first and foremost represent a child’s best interests. Courts generally prefer parents to come up with their own plan, rather than having to divide the child’s time based on what is presented to the court. If both parents agree on a plan, submit it to the court, and the judge believes it is in the best interest of the child, the schedule is likely to be granted.

In cases that the parents cannot come to a mutual decision, the court will take into consideration various factors that will help to determine where the child’s best interests lie, and will base its decision on those factors. Experienced family law lawyers can be extremely helpful in these situations, by helping their clients reach a mutually-acceptable agreement with limited engagement with one another.

What Does the "Child's Best Interest" Mean?

The "child's best interest standard" refers to the principle that a judge will apply to child visitation and custody arrangements. The child is always the most important party in legal proceedings, and courts will always put the child’s interests ahead of those of his or her parents. In consideration of those factors that are of most priority, the child’s safety, welfare, health, development, and adjustment, are of utmost importance.

Courts will generally take into account the above factors, in addition to the relationship history of the child and her parents. For example, if a child hasn’t seen her father for years, the court will take into consideration the effect on the child of granting visitation, as well as the factors that contributed to the lack of involvement.

Other considerations the court will look at when deciding what is in the child’s best interests include:

  • Evidence of domestic violence or abuse;
  • The mental and physical health of the parents;
  • Alcohol or drug abuse; and/or
  • The child’s wishes, and whether she is of a mature age to make those known.

State laws vary in child custody and visitation cases, but the child’s best interest is paramount to all. Experienced family law attorneys are a parent’s best bet at receiving a favorable child custody and visitation agreement.

Understanding Child Visitation Rights

Parental rights are an important part of child visitation and custody agreements. Unmarried fathers must establish paternity or be on the birth certificate in order to be afforded child visitation rights. Alternately, if a father has custody of his children, the mother has parental rights that extend to being able to have visitation with her children. However, there are situations, such as those involving drug or alcohol abuse, that a court will remove a parent’s rights to their child.

If you are in a situation where you are unable to see your child, you should speak with a family law attorney as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer will review your case, and assist you in petitioning the court for visitation rights.

Can I Be Denied Child Visitation?

In some cases, a judge may limit visitation or order supervised visitation. In others, the court may deny child visitation altogether, but these cases are fairly rare. If the safety of the child is at risk, the court will not put the child in danger. Another way a person may be denied visitation is from the other parent. If this happens, it is important that the parent documents each denial of visitation, and consult family law attorney for guidance.

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