Family Law

Visitation and Handling Transportation

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Learn how to figure out the logistics of visitation.

Why Should I Plan for Transportation Now?

After a separation or divorce, a plan for getting your child from one parent to the other is essential. Parents who haven’t mapped out transportation logistics are opening themselves up to unnecessary conflict. If you haven’t created a detailed transportation plan as part of your child custody order, it means you’ll have to negotiate with your ex every time you need to pick up or drop off your child.

Finally, with a detailed transportation plan and custody order, you have recourse if your ex isn’t following its terms. If you and your child’s other parent reach an agreement without a court order, you can’t ask a judge to force the other parent to comply. By contrast, both parents must follow a court order, including the details of transportation times and locations. A difficult parent who regularly shows up hours late to visitation or who doesn’t bring the child back on time can be held in contempt of court.

If you and your ex can work out transportation logistics in advance, it will go a long way to decreasing everyone's stress levels during these difficult transition times.

What Does a Typical Visitation Schedule Look Like?

A good visitation schedule will define when and where child exchanges will take place and whether one or both parents are responsible for travel costs. You should plan for your current circumstances, but leave the schedule broad enough that you won’t have to go back to court if you or your ex go through life changes, like a new job or marriage. A big development, like a new spouse can sour even the best co-parenting relationship. But if you plan ahead, these events shouldn't create major transportation problems: A detailed visitation order should handle the “what ifs” and save you from another trip to court.

On the other hand, it's not always possible to plan for something major, like one parent moving out of state. Without knowing in advance where that parent will end up living and what sort of visitation time that parent might have, it would be impossible to create a detailed plan in advance. To make these types of situations less adversarial, you can include a mediation provision in your plan, which would require both parents to see a mediator to help them resolve issues, rather than going to court.

Some elements commonly contained in a transportation schedule include:

  • Pick-up and Drop-off location. Most visitation exchanges happen curbside, meaning right in front of either parent’s residence. For parents with poor relationships, a visitation order may require pick-ups and drop-offs to take place at a park, the child’s school, fast food restaurant, or gas station.
  • Travel safety. Many parents worry that the other parent will ignore basic traffic rules or precautions. Your order can specify that a child must use a seat belt, appropriate car seat, or a booster seat when traveling with either parent.
  • Timing. Each parent’s commitment to punctuality goes a long way in keeping child exchanges pleasant. No one wants to sit around waiting for someone to show up. Your visitation order should say what time a parent should pick up the child and what time the child will be returned. Parents can reach their own agreements to change pick-up or drop-off times when things come up, but it’s still helpful to have a working schedule. Your order can also allow for a maximum wait period. For example, a transportation order can require a parent to wait 20 minutes for the other parent to show up, and visitation is forfeited if the tardy parent doesn’t arrive that time frame. This prevents a punctual parent from waiting around for a chronically late parent.
  • Out of town visits or out-of-state transportation. When parents live far away from each other, it’s even more important to specify who’s responsible for transportation costs and logistics. Generally, the parent exercising visitation pays for transportation costs, but parents can also agree to split these costs in half (or some other percentage). Your order should also address whether children can travel alone at a certain age and whether they should travel by plane, train, or car to visit an out-of-state parent.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My ex moved out of state. Who's responsible for transportation costs if my visitation order doesn’t address it?
  • I have sole physical and legal custody of my kids, and I am moving out-of-state for a new job. Will I have to cover all visitation costs?
  • My ex lets my preschooler ride in the front seat without a car seat or booster. This is against the law, but my ex won’t listen to me. What can I do to protect my child?
  • My ex and I live in different states and can’t agree on letting our children fly by themselves for visitation. How will a judge decide this issue?
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