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Understanding Child Visitation

Child Visitation Overview

A substantial hurdle that divorced couples who have children face, is trying to arrange the custody and visitation arrangements that they have. Suddenly, parents who spent time with their children on a daily basis must accept the fact that their might exist days, weeks and holidays that they will not see them. Divorces can be bitter and parents are left to deal with angry feelings, a change in lifestyle, possible financial trouble and losing time with their children all at once. A difficult situation can be made worse by parents who have a hostile relationship subsequent to their respective divorce. Find a child visitation lawyer to protect the rights of the children.

Background

Although modern day custody and visitation arrangements are not as rigid as they used to be, there still exist common difficulties in regards to custody and visitation schedules. The custodial parent is the parent who has the primary custody of the child, while the non-custodial parent is given visitation rights - contingent on whether that visitation would be beneficial to the child. There are different kinds of schedules that can be made as well as different custody arrangements.

Common Arrangements

If a couple has joint physical custody, then neither parent is considered to be non-custodial. Joint physical and legal custody involves the child splitting time equally between the two homes. This arrangement may be difficult for parents who live far away from each other. However, if both parents are located in the same area, this arrangement might aid the child with transitioning to a different family structure. Joint legal custody usually accompanies joint physical custody.

It allows for parents to have equal say in education and medical matters. Anther popular arrangement is when one parent has sole physical custody. They are known as the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent will usually be entitled to visitation with the child. A typical visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent includes weekends and holidays. Family courts have begun recognizing the benefits of a child spending time with both parents and have been giving more visitation time to the non-custodial parent, but fathers tend to assume this role more often.

Visitation Rights and Guidelines

By law, a child visitation schedule is not legally binding unless it is made into a court order. A parent must petition the court with the proposed schedule and a family court judge must approve it before it can be made into a court order. There are some child visitation guidelines that are followed if there is no court order made.

If the parents of the children are or were ever married, then they each have equal parental rights. This means that one parent could leave with the child and not be in any legal trouble until a court order is made; if the parents of the children were never married and there is no court order, then the mother has sole physical and legal custody.

Suggestions for Creating the Best Plan

Parents of a child can choose to work together, or with the family court with hopes of the creation of a fair visitation schedule. While a visitation schedule should always reflect the best interests of the child, parents must take their own schedules into account. There exist many ways to create a visitation schedule that benefits all parties; parents who get along and respect each other, have a better chance of creating a visitation schedule on which all parties involved agree. Flexibility is important when parents create a visitation schedule. There may be times when special circumstances call for a change in schedule.

Parents who have solid communication can avoid a rigid visitation schedule that leaves no room for change. If parents are able to work together to create their own schedules, there is a better chance that it can be flexible and reflect the needs of all parties involved. An adaptable visitation plan will help to allow for some minor changes in the schedule if need be. There may be times when a parent is running late to pick up or drop off a child. If the parents have a flexible plan and good communication, then running a few minutes late will not have a very negative effect on the schedule. While lateness or last minute schedule changes can be a nuisance, a flexible schedule that allows for small changes helps eliminate some visitation problems.

One of the most difficult things about a divorce involving children can be the cooperation with an ex-spouse. Divorces can be very bitter, and ironing out an amiable schedule may be hard when a couple resents or dislikes one another; it is even worse when one parent makes the situation more difficult by causing unnecessary problems. One must try to stay patient when dealing with an ex-spouse who intentionally or unintentionally causes issues in the visitation schedule. While a parent may have trouble speaking with their ex-spouse about these issues, it considered to be beneficial to explore whether a conflict can be solved without involving the legal system. If an agreement is considered to be impossible, a parent may then attempt to enforce their court ordered visitation schedule. However, an individual does not have to take advantage of their visitation rights.

Common Questions

While a parent can have numerous concerns regarding their custody settlement and visitation rights, there exist some general facts and questions that are very common. Due to the fact that state laws do tend to vary on the subject, oftentimes, it is recommended that an individual find out about their own state laws through their local family court. Parents who manage to get along well, despite their divorce, may want to make their own visitation schedule. A couple is allowed to create their own desired schedule and submit it to their local family court for approval. A judge will rarely deny a visitation schedule made by both parents.

Any visitation schedule that parents make must represent a child's best interests. The court generally prefers it if the parents make their own visitation schedule.A visitation schedule can be altered, and often is as the child grows up and the circumstances surrounding either the parent or child change. Parents should be aware of the problems that may surround a request to change visitation. A hearing will be necessary to change a court ordered visitation schedule. Filing a motion to change visitation is the first step.

The parent who filed will be given a court date. The parent who did not, will be served with legal papers that specify when they have to be at court. The judge decides if the requested change honors the best interests of the child. If one parent is against the change, then both sides must present their case. When grandparents are denied the right to interact with their grandchildren, they do not always have the ability to sue for visitation. The Supreme Court decided that allowing visitation by grandparents could infringe on a parent's right to raise their child. However, some states do allow for a grandparent to fight for visitation rights with their grandchildren, depending on the circumstances.

Before involving the courts, the grandparents should try to have a civil conversation with their own child. A reconciliation may occur. If a civil conversation is impossible then the grandparents may want to file a petition in family court, however, they will have to prove that allowing them to have contact with the child is in the child's best interests.

Court Role in Visitation Schedule

Unless the parents trust each other completely, then all child visitation issues should be handled in a family court. Even if parents do maintain an amicable relationship, having a legal arrangement can help in the future if the relationship sours or other problems occur. Family court does not have to turn into a battle between parents, but clearly this is a general concern. Family court exists to handle divorce cases, custody cases, visitation issues and any other legal issue that a family might face. There are some set standards that child visitation schedules follow.

A family court prefers that parents make their own visitation schedule but if they cannot, the court will step in to try and create a fair schedule. Under the Family Law Act, the family court is required to put the child's best interest above everything. The Family Law Act defines the top two child's best interests as spending time with both parents and being in a safe environment. There are other factors that are considered when the court makes or approves a visitation agreement. A child who is old enough may have some say about the visitation schedule, has the ability to voice their opinions. A parent's living conditions can also be important. More importantly, it is the parents who should be concerned about the best interests of the child and plan the schedule accordingly. If the parents still cannot reach an agreement, the court may order them to receive counseling with a court-appointed mediator.

A mediator works for the court to try to help parents come to a child visitation agreement. If the mediation does not work, the judge will issue a visitation schedule. Mediators have the right to consult with the judge about things the parents say during the meeting. When a mediation between the parents does not work, the court determines their own schedule. Once any type of visitation schedule is completed in court and approved by the judge, it is a legally binding document. It is important to remember that a parent does not have to take advantage of their visitation, but if a contempt order is filed, they may actually get in legal trouble for it.

A court-ordered visitation schedule can be good to have even if parents agree on a set schedule since a parent will be protected with legal recourse. If a parent has a lot of questions, or they feel it would benefit them, they may want to hire legal representation. A family lawyer would be the best to hire in this case, since they specialize in divorce, custody, visitation and other family issues. One should not take on what is sure to be an arduous legal battle on their own. A family lawyer can help the parent to navigate the complications that come with visitation issues, as well as file petitions on their behalf.

Changing Visitation Schedule

It is possible, and sometimes encouraged, to change a child's visitation schedule, depending on the circumstances. Children of different ages need different schedules, and there are times when it is within the benefit of everyone to make changes to the visitation schedule. There are many reasons to change a schedule, but parents cannot just decide to change it informally if they want it to be court ordered. If one wishes to file a petition to change their visitation schedule, they must draw up their own petition.

This petition should include, among other things, the reasons why a change in visitation would benefit the child. The parent can file it with their local county clerk for the family court. After the papers are filed, the parent is given a court date to reappear for a change in visitation hearing. The other parent must be served with the paperwork. After they are officially served, it is their obligation to show up in court on the day of the trial, on time. If they do not appear, the parent who filed may automatically, but not always, have their request granted. Either parent has a right to file for a change in the visitation schedule. The papers that one should bring to their visitation hearing vary.

If the change has been agreed on by both parents, prior to a hearing, than they can make a contract, have it notarized, and present that suggested alterations in court. Other papers that one can bring are written examples of why the change would be in the child's best interest. A letter from the child or a letter from one's employer explaining a work schedule change are two things that may help one's case. Since the visitation schedule has been made into an official court order, a parent can file a petition to hold their ex-spouse in contempt if they break the visitation guidelines. While it is true that a parent does not have to take advantage of their visitation rights, they may still get in trouble with the court if they skip visits, ignore the times for pick-up and drop-off of the child, or keep the child for extra time without requesting permission. The judge may choose to punish the parent in contempt by ordering them to take parenting classes, fining them, or even putting them in jail.

Types of Visitation

There exist three general types of visitation: reasonable visitation, fixed visitation, and supervised visitation. Reasonable visitation works by allowing the parents to make their own visitation schedule. To be approved by the courts it must be considered fair and balanced. A reasonable visitation schedule must allow the child to spend a good amount of time with each parent. Although the parents are in charge of making this schedule, it still has to be approved through the family court. A judge will make sure that the terms are reasonable and represent the best interests of the child.

A fixed visitation schedule is made by a family court judge. Unlike reasonable visitation, parents who are given a fixed visitation schedule could not come to an agreement about how custody should be handled. The judge sets exact dates and times for when visitation takes place. The schedule is usually rigid and does not allow for much flexibility. Supervised visitation rights are visits that are given to parents who are deemed unfit by the court to spend time alone with the child. This may be due to a substance abuse problem, a history of physical abuse, or mental problems. The visits are short and usually happen once a week. A court liaison or social worker supervises the visits.

Child Visitation Problems and Suggestion

At some point, every family will run into an issue concerning visitation. It may be something minor like the child not wanting to go because they are bored. It may be serious, such as a parent fearing for their child's safety, if they have to go spend time alone with a drug addicted ex-spouse. Some problems might end up needing the help of a family court before they can be fixed. Other problems may just need to be discussed.

A parent must remember that they are in charge of making sure that the visitation order is followed. Whether or not their children want to go does not matter. The parent can be held in contempt of court if they do not follow the court-ordered visitation. The child does not dictate the terms of visitation. Of course, if the child voices a serious complaint, a parent should always make sure to take notice. Any allegations of physical, sexual or mental abuse should be taken very seriously and then directed through the appropriate legal channels. Sharing custody and visitation can be especially hard for parents who have the former spouses that are abusive, hostile or substance abusers.

Depending on the severity of the circumstances, the judge may order limited visitation or supervised visitation. It is also possible, but rare that a judge will cancel a parent's visitation until a later time. Any individual who feels they are in danger should get a restraining order against their abusive spouse. While this may not cancel contact with their children, the abusive spouse will not be allowed within a certain distance of the family's residence or the abused spouse.

NEXT: What Are Fixed Visitation

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