Parental Visitation Rights FAQ

Child custody issues are never easy. Visitation rights are often a primary concern of individuals going through a divorce. It's important to know your state's child custody laws. Knowing how the family court makes custody decisions can be helpful. The family court is the ultimate decision-making authority.

Below you will find frequently asked questions (FAQs) about parental visitation rights.

Q: What Different Types of Custody Arrangements Are There?

A: Generally, custody arrangements can include legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to a parent's right to make major decisions about the child's life. This includes decisions about health care, education, and the religious upbringing of the child. Physical custody refers to where the child lives.

Joint custody is a custody arrangement where parents share their parenting time equally. They make important decisions about the child together. Sole custody is when one parent has full custody of the child.

The court may grant visitation rights to a parent without legal or physical custody.

Q: What Does “Reasonable Visitation" Mean?

A: "Reasonable visitation" means a time-sharing agreement decided and created by the parents. They should cooperate on a plan that works for both.

The parent with custodial rights will generally have more power and influence. This power is in terms of time and duration. Both the custodial and non-custodial parents have an obligation to act in good faith. They should negotiate reasonable visitation. It is best for the child's welfare to have as positive a relationship as possible with both parents.

For a reasonable visitation schedule to work, parents must be willing to communicate with each other. If you think that you and your ex won't be able to cooperate, you should tell the judge. You should insist on a fixed visitation schedule instead.

If you and your ex are currently under a reasonable visitation plan that isn't working, you should go back to court. You can ask for a different arrangement for parental visitation rights. Keep in mind that "virtual visitation," such as video calling, is an option in many states.

Q: What Is a “Fixed Visitation" Schedule?

A: A "fixed visitation" schedule is when the judge orders when the non-custodial parent will have parental visitation. For example, a non-custodial parent could have visitation rights on Monday nights. Or, they could have visitation rights only on holiday weekends.

Courts are more likely to issue fixed visitation schedules because it provides stability. It is something to rely on, particularly if the parents have trouble co-parenting. Fixed visitation schedules can be modified later with your lawyer.

Q: How Can I Prevent Abuse During Child Visitation Time?

A: If your ex has a history of abuse or domestic violence, especially towards your child or children, you can point this out to the court. If a court believes a parent may harm the child during their visitation time, they will usually order supervised visitation. Or they may limit the amount of time the non-custodial parent can spend with the child.

This means that any time the non-custodial parent spends with the child must be in the presence of another adult designated by the court. This other person could be someone agreed upon by the child's parents. Sometimes, the court appoints someone to the role. The court must approve all supervisors before they can fill their roles.

Q: What if a Non-Custodial Parent Fails to Exercise Their Designated Parenting Time With the Minor Child?

A: Some custodial parents may seek to modify a visitation order based upon a non-custodial parent's failure to exercise defined parenting time. While this may be appropriate in certain circumstances, many attorneys argue it is not the best course of action. After all, reducing parenting time for failure to exercise that time may not be understood by children.

Often, when a non-custodial parent fails to exercise parenting time, the goal should be to bring that parent back into the child's life. This can ensure that both parents are as involved as much as possible in the lives of their children. The child may suffer the emotional stress or trauma of feeling unloved or unwanted.

That said, some states have broadly addressed this concern by statute. In Tennessee, for instance, a court may deviate upward from statutory guideline support due to a non-custodial parent's failure to exercise defined parenting time. Not all states have agreed with this concept. Some courts have held that a court cannot coerce a co-parent to become more involved by threatening a greater child support obligation.

Q: Do My Children's Grandparents or Other Family Members Have a Right to Visitation?

A: Yes. Every state in the country has a law that allows some type of grandparent visitation. Through these laws, grandparents (and sometimes other non-parents, like family members or close family friends) can ask a court to grant them the right to continue their relationships with the child. However, each state law slightly differs in what a grandparent needs to show to get this legal right. Also, courts will give great weight to a parent's decision to limit grandparent visitation.

Less than half the states in the union have restrictive statutes when it comes to grandparent visitation. In these states, it is sometimes only possible for a grandparent to get visitation rights in certain circumstances. For instance, if one of the parents has died.

The remainder of the states have more permissive laws. These laws allow grandparent visitation rights even if all the parents are alive. However, the well-being of the child is kept in mind in all situations. All custody decisions are made in the best interests of the child.

The court will look at several relevant factors to make this determination. For instance, they will consider the child's wishes (or the child's preferences) if they are old enough. The court will look at the child's relationship with the grandparent or family member.

Q: How Can I Limit the Visitation Time the Grandparents Have With My Children?

A: If you attempt to limit the visitation rights of your child's grandparents, they may take you to court to enforce their rights. If you have a good reason that it is in the best interests of your child for you to deny the grandparents an aspect of visitation rights, you should feel comfortable going to court with credible evidence to enforce your wishes.

You shouldn't go merely for your own pride or unreasonable reasons. If you do, you will likely only waste your time and money. The grandparents will probably receive visitation rights.

When you go to court, it would be best to arrive with a planned visitation schedule. If you decide to go to court, it may be worth your time and money to hire a mediator. They'll help you determine a visitation schedule that works for everyone.

Q: I Am a Grandparent With Visitation Rights. What Should I Do if the Child's Parents Want to Limit My Visitation Rights?

A: The best first step is to discuss the problem with a mediator. In some states, a court will not even hear a grandparent's argument before all parties go to a mediator. You can find mediators with visitation experience by contacting your local bar association.

Unfortunately, mediation does not always work. You may end up in court fighting for visitation rights. You should be prepared to present evidence showing your strong relationship with your grandchild. You will also need to prove that denial of visitation with you will harm your grandchild and is contrary to the child's best interests.

They may order a custody evaluation. The judge may ask you about your medical history to determine your health. They will ask whether you need a caregiver yourself. They can also ask you if you have had any problems with the law.

It is worthwhile to keep in mind that the ultimate question the judge keeps asking themselves is, "What is in the best interests of the child?" If you have bad habits, like smoking, be prepared to swear that you will not smoke around the child. If you have a disability that may put the child in danger, you should be prepared to show that you are willing to have supervised visits to keep the child safe.

Learn More About Parental Visitation Rights From an Attorney

Going through a divorce or separation is challenging. If you add figuring out child custody to the equation, it is even more emotionally taxing. A family law attorney can help you through your child custody case. They can provide you with valuable legal advice about your parental rights.

Attorneys can help you draw custody agreements. They can even help represent you in family court until you get a final court order or custody order. If you are trying to get custody of a child, it is in your best interests to speak to a family law attorney.

Reach out to a local child custody lawyer today.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child custody arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and provide for your children. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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