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Child Custody
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Court-Ordered Child Visitation

In most cases - except where there is a concern for a childs safety - a non-custodial parent has the right to regular visits with his or her children, including overnight and vacation visits. The amount of visitation will vary with the desires of the parents and the inclinations of the judge. Child visitation laws typically define the best interest of the child as the prevailing concern when deciding visitation.

Typical Visitation Arrangements

Courts often approve visitation arrangements that allow the non-custodial parent to visit with the child every other weekend, one week night, half of the childrens winter and spring breaks from school, alternating major holidays, and from two to six weeks during the summer. If the parents live farther apart, it is common to allow more visitation in the summer.

However, if you or your childs other parent are prone to conflict or if one of you would prefer a detailed plan, it may be desirable to have a very specific custody and visitation order according to the American Bar Association, which published a book on divorce, including child visitation rights. A plan could include such specified details as:

  • On which weekends visitation will occur (for example, weekends that begin on the first, third, and fifth Fridays of the month)
  • Lists of holidays and school breaks in which the non-custodial parent will have visitation (one example is using odd and even years to keep track of which parent has which holidays in a given year)
  • Exact pick-up and drop-off times
  • Deciding which parent will host the birthday parties to which the child invites friends (perhaps alternating years)
  • Periods of notice required for choosing summer vacation time with the children
  • Notification of where the child will be when out of town
  • Agreements for parents to try to accommodate each other if the parents must travel out of town on business or are otherwise not able to be with the children for a designated period
  • Agreements to share or provide copies of school and medical records (federal law requires that both parents have access to school records unless a court orders otherwise)
  • Agreements to notify the other parent of teacher conferences, athletic events, and other events involving the child
  • Agreements for the parents to consult with each other about what extra-curricular activities the child will be involved in
  • Agreements to make the child available for special events regardless of the custody or visitation schedule (for example, to make the child available for family weddings, reunions, and funerals)
  • Agreements to allow the child telephone contact with the other parent (with the times and frequency specified)
  • Agreements to not interfere with (or instead to encourage) the childs relationship with the other parent
  • Agreements to notify the other parent of changes in address, telephone number, or employment

Court Visitation Denied

Adhering to child visitation laws, a judge may deny child visitation rights for the non-custodial parent if he or she believes the child would be placed in danger. Among the concerns a judge may have are:

  • Possible molestation
  • Excessive drug and alcohol use in front of the children
  • Possible kidnap attempts

Even with those concerns, a parent may be allowed supervised visitation. Such visits usually occur at a social service agency or in the presence of a responsible relative.

Changes in Visitation

In most states, parents may change visitation arrangements without having to return to court. However, to make the new visitation agreement official, or to ensure that it does not revert back to the original court visitation arrangement, you can go to court to modify the custody and visitation order.

When a Parent Blocks Visitation?

In the often-emotional, sometimes antagonistic relationship between parents who are no longer together, there may be occasions when the custodial parent tries to interfere with the non-custodial parents right to visitation. This sometimes occurs when the non-custodial parent has, for whatever reason, failed to supply the custodial parent with child support.

However, child support and visitation are two separate legal matters. If the visitation has been court-ordered, the non-custodial parent can return to court to seek enforcement of the order and/or punishment of the custodial parent. In a separate legal procedure, the custodial parent can seek the courts help in getting child support payments flowing again. But visitation is never linked to child support payments legally, so a parent should not link it in real life.

If the visitation that is suddenly denied has always been part of an informal arrangement with the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent could file with the local family law court a request for visitation order. Your child custody attorney can best advise you how to do this in your state.

Grandparent Visitation

Most states have laws that allow third parties, or non-immediate family members, to have visitation rights. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the courts should not interfere with the parents ability to decide with whom their children should visit. This makes it tougher, although not impossible, for grandparents and other third parties to get a court order that allows them to regularly visit with a child.

A step-parent who does not adopt a spouses child normally may not claim custody of the child if the marriage ends in divorce, although some states, such as California, allow a step-parent to seek visitation. An attorney can best advise you of the law in your area.