One of the most important things divorced parents can do is help their children maintain a close relationship with both parents. Experts say children do best when both parents continue to provide love and guidance.

This may require you to put aside personal resentments in order to help your ex-spouse stay involved in your child's life. A well-drafted visitation schedule can help your children enjoy quality time with both of you.

Sometimes though, a parent's visits raise concerns about the child's safety or well-being. In some situations, parental visits must be restricted to protect the child. If you are divorcing, you may wonder when a court can place limits on visitation by a parent.

Limiting Visits by Parents

Normally, a parent who doesn't have custody of their child is entitled to visit the child. Visitation is limited only if a court finds it would endanger the child's physical, mental, moral or emotional health.

The noncustodial parent is entitled to a court hearing before they can be denied visits with their child. They must be given advance notice of the hearing and an opportunity to be heard. They have a right to tell the judge their side of the story.

The burden is on the custodial parent to persuade the judge that visitation by the other parent will seriously endanger the child's welfare. Factors that show a parent is not fit for visitation include child abuse, neglect or severe mental illness. A court may also limit visitation if a parent has been gone a long time or failed to establish a relationship with the child.

Where circumstances fall short of grounds for denying visitation, a court may consider supervised or restricted visitation. To protect the child's safety, the court may require visits to take place in public or when a third person is present.

Reasons for Limiting or Denying Visitation

The following lists some of the circumstances in which visitation may be restricted or denied:

  • Violence or physical endangerment. A parent may be denied visitation if the parent abused the child or threatened physical violence. Some states require courts to consider evidence of child or spousal abuse when awarding visitation
  • Emotional harm. Visits may be restricted or supervised if they are shown to be extremely upsetting for the child Sometimes, stuttering, bed wetting, unusual behavior or poor school performance may indicate emotional problems that arise from parental visits
  • Child's wishes. Courts may consider the child's wishes as to visitation, depending upon the child's age and maturity
  • Mental illness. A parent's mental problems don't automatically deprive them of visitation rights. But visitation may be restricted if the parent's condition could harm the child
  • Substance abuse. A parent who abuses drugs or alcohol may be denied visitation if their conduct endangers the child When alcoholism causes the parent to use abusive language, drive while impaired or mistreat the child, a court may deny or restrict visitation
  • Sexual behavior. Courts rarely deny visitation solely because of a nonmarital relationship between the noncustodial parent and a girlfriend or boyfriend. However, courts may cancel overnight visitation if a parent's sexual activities adversely impact the child. Courts differ on whether homosexuality limits a parent's visitation privileges
  • Incarceration. Visitation rights may be suspended if it's shown that jail visits are damaging to the child
  • Religion. Because both parents are entitled to the free exercise of religion, a noncustodial parent can instruct the child in his or her religious beliefs absent a showing of harm to the child
  • Abduction. There must be a strong probability of abduction to limit visitation on that basis

Questions for Your Attorney

• Will getting remarried affect my visitation rights? What about moving in with someone without getting married?
• My ex-spouse beat me and I'm afraid for my kids' safety. Can you make sure his visits with our kids are supervised?
• I have the opportunity to accept a higher paying job in another state. Can I keep my visitation rights if I move there? 

Tagged as: Family Law, Visitation Rights, supervised visitation, child custody