Generally visitation is one of the primary concerns of parents going through a divorce or separation. As an initial matter, it is crucial to understand your state’s child custody laws and find answers to common visitation legal questions.
In some cases, the judge presiding over your separation or divorce may determine that you or your ex-spouse are entitled to “reasonable visitation.” This implies that it is up to the parents of the child to devise a plan of parental visitation time. When the parents are able to cooperate, it is usually preferred over other means of determining visitation schedules because it provides the parents the flexibility to work around their respective schedules.
However, practically, the parent that has custodial rights will typically have more influence over what is considered “reasonable visitation” in terms of times and duration. The custodial parent has no legal obligation to comply with any proposed visitation schedule. But, if a parent is being inflexible just to be malicious towards his or her ex-spouse, a judge may take this into consideration if that parent requests for something later on. In order for a reasonable visitation schedule to work, parents need to be willing to communicate with each other in a civil manner.
If you know or think that you and your ex-spouse will not be able to cooperate in a reasonable visitation plan, you should communicate with the judge and insist on a fixed visitation schedule instead. In addition, if you and your ex are currently under a reasonable visitation plan that is not working, you may return to the court and ask for a different arrangement in terms of parental visitation rights. Keep in mind that “virtual visitation,” such as video calling, is an option available in some states.
What is a “Fixed Visitation” Schedule?
In general, a “fixed visitation” schedule is one where the judge orders times where the non-custodial parent is to have parental visitation. For instance, a non-custodial parent could have visitation rights on Monday and Wednesday nights, or only on holiday weekends. Courts are more likely to place parents on fixed visitation schedules when there is a disagreement between the parents or when the parents are not willing to cooperate with each other.
Additionally, some courts implement more fixed visitation schedules because it provides some stability that children can rely upon through this difficult process for them. Moreover, if your ex-spouse has a history of abuse, especially towards your child or children, you can use this in court when the court is deciding parental visitation rights. But, if a court believes that the non-custodial parent may cause harm or be abusive to the child during his or her visitation time, the court will order that all visitation be supervised.
This translates to any time the non-custodial parent spends with the child, it must be in the presence of another adult that will prevent any abuse of the child. This other person may be someone agreed upon by the parents of the child, or sometimes it is a person that is appointed to the role by the court. However, all supervisors must be approved by the court before he or she can fill their role.
What Is Visitation?
If the court grants sole physical custody to one parent, the judge will award visitation rights to the other (noncustodial) parent and the child. In almost every state, the law presumes that it is in the child’s best interest to have a meaningful and continuing relationship with both parents.
Additionally, the law recognizes that visitation with each parent is a child’s right. Aside from extraordinary circumstances, the court will grant a noncustodial parent visitation with the child. Therefore, the court may award reasonable, supervised, or unsupervised visitation.
When a judge orders “reasonable visitation,” the custody order will not specify each parent’s time with the child. Instead, it assumes that it is up to the parents to decide an appropriate schedule for visits. What constitutes “reasonable visitation” varies by case to case basis and state to state. If one parent receives “reasonable visitation” in a custody order, the parties will have major flexibility in determining what is reasonable, including times, dates, and frequency of visitation.
However keep in mind that a visitation order without a set visitation schedule can be unpredictable and, at times, inconvenient. For example, one parent’s reasonable visitation may be occasional day visits for an infant child, with rare overnights. In cases involving older children, a noncustodial parent may have longer visits that involve overnights.
You should only include reasonable visitation in your custody order if you and the child’s other parent can communicate decently and will not have outstanding issues with each other. If you for some reason cannot agree on when you and the child should spend time together, the courts will defer to the custodial parent until the court orders otherwise. In other words, if you and your ex-partner cannot agree on the weekends or holidays you will get to spend with your child. You may need to file a formal motion requesting the court to decide for you.
Judges reserve supervised visitation for cases where the court discovers that it is not in the child’s best interest to spend time alone with the child. Courts will provide a specific schedule for the noncustodial parent, where that parent will spend time with the child at a court-sanctioned facility and with an approved third-party supervisor. But in some cases, the judge may permit the families to choose a supervisor, like friends or family members. The parent and child may visit at the family member’s home or another approved location.
Usually, the most common type of visitation in the custody order, unsupervised visitation, means that a parent will spend time alone with the child, which includes overnight visits. Typically, the court will formulate a specific schedule for the parents and child to follow. Unlike the reasonable parenting time, if the custodial parent cannot follow the court-ordered schedule, the noncustodial parent can request enforcement from the court.
What Is a Visitation Schedule and Why Do You Want One?
While each case differs on this, each visitation schedule specific visitation schedules are detailed and typically include the following information:
- Where the child will resides;
- Which parent has visitation, including the days and times;
- Where the child will spend holidays, birthdays, and summer vacations;
- Make-up parenting time provisions (including a late policy, which is usually 30 minutes);
- Transportation requirements, including which parent is responsible for bringing the child to and from visitation;
- Any other provision the judge finds necessary to prevent future issues with the parents and;
- A typical visitation schedule may include alternating weekend overnight visits, alternating school breaks and holidays, and extended visitation over summer vacations.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
If you are in need of an experienced child visitation lawyer to help you navigate the issues that rise with visitation schedules. It would be advisable to reach out to an attorney who can assist you with this process.
It is important to devise a visitation plan that can support the wellbeing of your child. If for some reason you are unable to agree to the schedule the court can intervene and set a schedule that is reasonable and just for both parents.