Family Law

Visitation Rights After Divorce

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Fostering the parent-child relationship after divorce.

Ending a relationship can be difficult, especially when children are involved. You no longer have constant access to your children and have to follow the rules set by a visitation order. If your child’s other parent is uncooperative or antagonistic, the situation can become extremely frustrating. A clear visitation order can usually help parents avoid unnecessary conflict. But sometimes one parent may choose to ignore a custody order or prevent the other parent’s visits. While you’re obligated to follow the terms of a visitation order, you also have the ability to ask a court to enforce the order when your ex isn’t following it.

Visitation Rights

Parents’ rights to love, rear, and guide their children are protected by the Constitution. A court must presume that a parent will act in a child’s best interests unless evidence proves otherwise. A parent’s visitation rights can only be limited if there’s proof that the parent is not meeting the child’s basic needs.

When parents separate, a court will create a visitation or custody order. Parents can reach their own visitation agreements or leave these decisions up to a judge. A visitation order will spell out which parent has physical custody (who the child will live with), which parent has legal custody (decision-making power on the child’s behalf), or if custody is shared. Whether or not you like the terms of the order, it’s binding, and there can be serious consequences if you violate its terms.

Understanding Your Visitation Order

If the visitation order designates you as the noncustodial parent, it should also include your scheduled visitation times. Usually, an order will specify certain days and times you can visit your child. In Utah, for example, a noncustodial parent is entitled to at least minimum visitation with a child occurring one weeknight per week and every other weekend. Parents can be awarded more time in a custody order, but a parent won’t typically receive less than the minimum amount—except in extreme circumstances.

You and your child’s other parent can agree to different visitation times or dates. However, if your ex later backtracks on the deal, you’re obligated to follow the visitation order’s terms. Although you won’t face legal sanctions if you fail to show up to visits, you will lose precious time with your child. The visitation order may also outline each parent’s responsibility for transportation costs to and from visits, decision-making powers on child’s behalf, holiday visitation, and child support.

What’s the Relationship Between Child Support and Visitation?

All parents are obligated to financially support their children. This responsibility can look different for different parents. For example, the noncustodial parent is typically required to pay child support. Though a custodial parent may not have to pay child support, that parent is still responsible for meeting the child’s financial needs, which is accomplished by providing food, shelter, clothing, and parental care.

Child support follows the child and neither parent can decide to “do away” with it. A noncustodial parent is still obligated to pay child support even if a custodial parent is preventing visits. You can’t withhold child support payments as a threat to an uncooperative parent. If you fail to meet your child support obligations, you could face fines or even jail time.

How Do I Enforce My Visitation Order?

Unfortunately, some parents put children in the middle of their personal battles. If a custodial parent is preventing your visits or limiting your time with your child, you can ask a court to intervene. Keep good records of every visitation violation including dates, times, and copies of any related text messages or emails. When the child’s other parent cancels your visit, try to reschedule make-up time. Your attempts to exercise visitation may convince a judge to grant you additional make-up visits or to even order a change in custody in some situations.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I travel a lot for work and don’t have a regular schedule. How will this affect visitation with my children?
  • My ex doesn’t completely prevent visits, but always has some excuse for cancelling visits last minute. Usually it’s some lame excuse like a flat tire, an extracurricular activity, or that my child is sick. I’m missing a lot of time with my kid. What can I do?
  • How can I increase my visitation time with my child?

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