Parents can establish formal child custody and visitation agreements in one of two ways:
  • By Agreement:  Ideally both parents will come to an agreement regarding visitation so that each parent's schedule can accommodate their visitation rights. Some states require the parents to meet with a court mediator in hopes that they will come to an agreement, but others will simply leave it up to the parents and their attorneys. The courts do not usually interfere with a mutual agreement.
  • By Court Order:  If an agreement is not reached, the court will hold a hearing to determine an appropriate visitation schedule. Both parents will have a short time to present their case. Because the judge is not familiar with the intricacies of the parents’ work, social, and commuting schedule, the judge may impose a visitation schedule that is not ideal for either parent.
People also ask about: Child Visitation Rights Before Divorce

What Is Child’s Best Interests Standards?

Child custody laws vary by state, but courts will generally consider the “Child’s Best Interest Standard” when considering the custody and visitation rights of a child:
  • The child’s background including age, gender, and mental and physical health
  • The child’s own preference, if they are of a certain age of maturity, usually 12-14 years or older
  • Environmental considerations such as quality of schools, community safety, and extra-curricular opportunities
  • The health and maturity of each parent
  • Each parent’s ability to provide financially and emotionally for the child
  • The degree of each parent’s willingness to encourage contact between the child and the other party
  • Whether there are any siblings or important family members involved
  • Social background and lifestyle of each parent

What Are the Different Types of Custody Arrangements?

There are various types of child custody. The most common:
  • Legal Custody – Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make decisions about the rearing of the child. This includes issues such as education, religion, medical care, and discipline. Courts generally award joint legal custody, allowing the parents to share these rights.
  • Physical Custody – Physical Custody is the right of a parent to have a child live with him or her. Most courts order joint physical custody, but the exact time-split is often something other than 50/50.
  • Sole Custody – A sole custody arrangement provides one parent with total custody rights, allowing the other parent only visitation rights.
  • Joint Custody – A joint custody arrangement allows the parents to synchronize their schedules and share decision-making responsibility over the child.
  • Bird’s Nest Custody – A bird’s nest custody arrangement occurs where the child remains in one home and the parents rotate in and out of the home and take turns caring for the child.

What Are Child Visitation Rights?

In a divorce and child custody setting, child visitation rights refer to the rights of the non-custodial parent in seeing and spending time with the child. The terms of child visitation are usually set forth in a visitation schedule. This would be a court order outlining the specific circumstances under which the child may be visited. For example, the court may choose to designate alternating weekends during which the parent can spend time with their child.

How Do I Modify of Child Custody and Visitation Arrangements?

Child custody and visitation agreements can be modified with the consent of both parents or by court order. Any portion of the agreement can be changed so long as it is consistent with the best interests of the child. Typical justifications for an alteration in child custody or visitation are:
  • Relocation: Some states allow parents with physical custody to relocate no matter what distance is involved.
  • Substantial change in circumstances: Anything significant that disrupts the stability of the child's life (i.e. parent's loss of job, relocation, illness) may warrant modification.
  • Change in lifestyle: Modification is justified if substantial changes in a parent's lifestyle threaten or harm the child.
Family courts prefer not to alter visitation arrangements as this can cause new problems, but if a proper justification arises the court will grant a modification.

Do I Need a Family Lawyer?

If you are looking to establish or modify child custody or visitation rights, it is generally wise to consult with an experienced attorney near you. An experienced child custody lawyer dealing with the complicated court system and can work to protect your relationship with the child.