Child Visitation Rights: An Overview

Going through a divorce is never easy, and if children are involved, visitation may be one of your primary concerns. It’s important to speak with your family law attorney about the child custody laws of your state. Part of being a parent and the court’s primary concern is what is in the best interest of your child. In this article, we will take a look at some of the most common issues that arise over child visitation.

Can You Solve Child Visitation Issues?

During and after your divorce, child custody and child visitation rights can become a highly contested issue – and one that you and your ex-spouse should seriously think about. 

If you aren’t the custodial parent, your child will live with their other parent the majority of the time. Even if you aren’t the custodial parent, you will likely still get visitation time with your child. The courts want to grant the non-custodial parent visitation rights because they believe a child needs to have a relationship with both parents.

What Does the Court Generally Take Into Account?

If you are the non-custodial parent and wait too long to fight for your right to have visitation with your child, the court may wonder why you waited so long to take action. The court may also question how important your child is to you if you procrastinate in fighting to see them. 

Some of the other criteria the court may look at includes:

  • How long you waited before fighting for your child visitation rights
  • The living conditions of your home as the non-custodial parent
  • If you spent time with your child in the past
  • If you, as the non-custodial parent, have spent overnight time alone with your child
  • If there has been a history of abuse with the non-custodial parent
  • Where the non-custodial parent lives – close, out of state, over 100 miles away

What Does the Court Not Take Into Account for Non-Custodial Parent Visitation Rights?

When it comes to visitation rights, the courts generally will not look at things like:

  • Whether the non-custodial parent has paid child support
  • If the non-custodial parent is employed
  • If the non-custodial parent has gotten remarried

Does Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody Determine Visitation Rights?

In general, most courts have a rather relaxed meaning for the words joint custody and sole custody. One of the main differences is that in sole custody, the parent who is the residential parent can make the majority of the decisions about the child. They have the right to do this without consulting the child’s non-custodial parent for any type of permission. These decisions may include school activities, what sports the child will participate in, and which doctor the child will see. 

However, if a joint or sole custody agreement has been reached, both you and your ex-spouse must be present for any major decisions regarding your child. Having a good visitation attorney to spell out your Parenting Agreement and Custody Order that the court will enter will define what each parent must do, and what decisions they both must make.

If you are the non-custodial parent in a joint or sole custody situation, you do have rights for visitation with your child. In fact, the court is so serious about your child having visitation and a relationship with both their parents that in some states, interfering with your child’s visitation with the other parent is considered a crime!

What is Reasonable Visitation and Fixed Visitation?

If the judge rules that you are entitled to reasonable visitation rights, this normally means you and your ex-spouse need to come up with a parental visitation plan. However, the parent who has custodial rights generally has more power over what may be considered “reasonable visitation.” 

The custodial parent doesn’t have a legal responsibility to agree to any proposed visitation schedule. However, if the custodial parent is acting in a malicious or spiteful manner, the judge may take this into consideration in the future. 

In a fixed visitation situation, the judge will order times and occasionally places where the non-custodial parent can have parent visitation with their child. In some cases, the courts may order a fixed visitation schedule because it gives the child stability they can rely on.

How Can I Apply for My Child Visitation Rights?

There are several steps in applying for child visitation rights. You should, however, consult a child visitation attorney who can follow the proper procedures and laws. Your attorney can also prepare and file all the necessary paperwork with the court.

The steps to apply for child visitation include:

1. Attempt to reach a mutually agreeable child visitation agreement before involving the court.

2. Outline your agreement in a petition for visitation rights that will be filed with the court. If you couldn’t reach an agreement, put this in your petition as well.

3. The petition must be served to the other parent within a specific amount of time. It’s important to know what the time limit is and how the documents must be served in your state.

4. Attend the mediation. In many cases, the judge may order that you and your child’s other parent attend a mediation session in an attempt to reach an agreement. If you can’t agree during the mediation, the judge will then make the decision based on any evidence presented during the hearing.

5. Attend the hearing in your case. The judge will review your petition and come to a decision as to whether you are allowed child visitation rights.

6. If the judge lays out specific requirements for you to fulfill in order to have visitation rights with your child, it’s important to follow these. 

How Can I Stop Child Visitation Rights?

In order to stop child visitation rights, you must have a judge enter a court order. This order normally comes from the same court that entered the current order for custody and child visitation rights.

You can’t simply refuse to let the non-custodial parent see their child. If the visitation was scheduled by a previous court order, your refusal to allow the non-custodial parent to see their child could result in you being held in contempt of court.

It’s important to check with a child custody attorney in your state about visitation rights. In some states, you must file a motion, request, or supplemental petition to have the court modify its original order. Additionally, some states may have an instruction form or checklist you can use to make sure you’re including all the information the court requires.

Note that most states grant child visitation to the non-custodial parent unless the court feels that the child could be put at serious risk in doing so. In order to stop or restrict child visitation, you must be able to show that spending time with those people is not in the best interest of your child. 

One of the main things to remember is not to stop child custody visitation rights out of spite, maliciousness, revenge, or another reason that is personal and has nothing to do with your child. In doing so, the outcome may not be what you expect. 

Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights?

Every state has some type of accommodation that allows for grandparent visitation. However, these laws can vary greatly from state to state. In some states, foster parents or stepparents may also be entitled to child visitation. 

It’s important to note that the court generally will give great weight to a parent’s objection for grandparent visitation rights. Additionally, less than half of the states have restrictive statutes when it comes to grandparent visitation rights. 

What Happens if the Non-Custodial Parent Doesn’t Exercise Their Visitation Rights?

If you are the custodial parent, you may ask the court to modify your child visitation order if the non-custodial parent has failed to exercise defined parenting time with their child. 

Many child visitation attorneys argue this isn’t the best course of action, because reducing parenting time for failure to exercise that time may be hard for your child to understand.

In many cases, the goal should be to bring the non-custodial parent back into your child’s life to make sure you both are involved. Failure to try to do this could result in your child feeling unloved and unwanted.

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember in any child visitation situation is that both you and your ex must act in the best interest of your child. Whether you are the custodial or non-custodial parent, child visitation is extremely important to your child. Your child needs to understand that both you and your ex-spouse love and care about them, even though you are no longer together. 

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