Child custody is a major issue in your divorce, including visitation for a non-custodial parent. Understand the elements of typical visitation arrangements, and their place in your visitation order. You want a plan both parents can work with and respect, and avoid going back to court.
Visitation with minor children is granted in most divorces where one parent has sole physical custody. State law governs visitation rights, and generally allows visitation that is "reasonable." A parent needs enough time with their child for a meaningful relationship. Some state laws use more modern terms, such as "parenting time." Updated terms recognize that regardless of the name, divorced parents share in parenting their children.
Many states' laws and court rules promote parents drafting a parenting plan, including visitation terms. The court then approves the plan, unless it's not in the best interest of the child for some reason. If parents agree on visitation, it's more likely the plan will work, with less need for the court's intervention. Courts do decide custody and visitation issues, including setting visitation schedules when parents can't agree on all terms.
Knowing common visitation arrangements and options can help you draft a proposed visitation plan. If the court is deciding these issues, you can ask the court for certain terms and you'll understand its decision.
Visitation Plan Elements
Practical planning is part of drafting a visitation plan. Parent and child need the time and opportunity to maintain and grow their relationship, balanced with everyone's practical needs and realities. Consider these factors in your plan:
Frequency of Visits
A common schedule might be overnight visits with the non-custodial parent every other weekend, and a weekday afternoon or evening. Changes can be made for longer vacation periods. Overnight visits are allowed, unless you show such visits endanger your child.
Holidays and School Vacations
You may divide parenting time for holidays and school vacations in several ways. Holidays and vacations can be grouped into major and minor categories; spell out what's included in each category. Some parents agree to alternate these periods by year. For example, in odd-numbered years, the mother spends major holidays with the children, and the father takes all minor holidays, such as Labor Day and the Fourth of July.
Longer school vacations can be assigned in a similar way, alternating by year. Summer provides more flexibility, and your parenting terms can require you to meet, plan and give notice for extended time with your children. For example, during the summer, one or both parents may have rights to one or more uninterrupted weeks with the children.
Other Special Events
Parenting plans often recognize special days such as birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day. Parents may alternate spending time with their child on his birthday by year, and may be given visitation on each parent's birthday. These are usually exceptions to your normal schedule. For example, if it's mom's usual weekend, but that Sunday is Father's Day, dad has the kids from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. that day.
Transportation and Time
Your visitation schedule should include who is responsible for transportation, and the times and location for pick-up and drop-off. Generally, the parent exercising visitation provides transportation. Your plan may depend on where you and your ex-spouse live, your work schedules and the children's schedules and needs. For weekend visitation, the visiting parent might pick up the kids at 5 p.m. on Friday, returning them on Sunday at 6 p.m.
If there's long-distance travel, make sure your parenting plan covers all details. This includes transportation type, who pays and whether children will be allowed to travel alone.
Alternative Visitation Methods
Technology has changed visitation and parenting for divorced parents. Some states' laws and rules reflect alternate visitation and parenting methods, ranging from phone calls to virtual visitation over the internet. Your parenting plan can include how these parenting methods apply to your family.
Terms can cover when and how often parents can contact children when they are with the other parent, and the method used. Your plan may depend on your child's age, and the equipment and services available to your family. Address costs for phone and internet service, and equipment.
Your state's laws may give your child's grandparents visitation rights, or visits are covered in your parenting plan. For example, if your ex-spouse is away on business travel, can grandparents share scheduled visitation with your child?
Your Parenting Plan in Action
Your parenting plan or visitation rights are part of the court's order in your divorce case. Make sure visitation terms are clear and easy to follow. Parents avoid conflict and stay out of court. A clear document may be important for others, such as the police if you ever have a serious dispute over enforcement of child custody issues.
How flexible is your parenting arrangement? Some parents co-parent well after divorce, and can make adjustments to their visitation schedule to allow for special events, such as family gatherings. Others can't get along, and following the court's order exactly is the only way to avoid trouble. Modification of your custody or visitation order can be expensive, both in money spent and other resources consumed.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My ex-spouse and I cooperate, and frequently change our visitation schedule. Should we go back to court and update the custody and visitation order? How complex and expensive is it if we agree on the changes?
- My ex-spouse doesn't show up for scheduled visits; can I have the court change and reduce visitation?
- My ex-spouse moved and wants our child to fly alone. Will the court grant his request for our child to fly alone?