When you are going through a divorce or separation, you need to think about what is best for your children. What is best includes maintaining contact, nurturing, and developing healthy relationships with the children. One way you can do this is through child visitation. You and your partner should be in a position to discuss visitation between yourselves or let a court help you in coming up with a visitation schedule. The Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer can advise you and ensure you address your concerns in the creation of the visitation schedule.
An Overview of Child Visitation
Child visitation is one of the common issues that arise in a divorce or separation proceeding, often preceded by child custody. Child visitation allows the non-custodial parent to spend reasonable time with his or her children. Time spent with your children is vital because both parents have a crucial role in the emotional and psychological growth of the children; even after a divorce or separation, both parents have a duty and responsibility and the right to associate with their children.
Usually, a couple may come up with a visitation agreement, which defines the roles and responsibilities of each parent towards the children, the time they can spend with the children, and provisions for adjustments in visitation.
Where the parents cannot agree, they may involve a mediator, therapist, counselor, or the court to help them come up with the visitation agreement.
It is always emotionally and financially important for the parents to come up with an agreement by themselves. However, the emotional charges, anger, and bitterness can lead to disagreements and drag the matter through a court.
When you take the matter through the court, the judge will often rule in favor of the best interests of the child. Since selfishness from both parties can influence and exacerbate visitation issues, the court uses the standard of ‘child’s best interest’ when making its decision. The court considers:
- The age of the child
- The child’s overall well-being
- The employment and work history of both parents
- The opinion of the child (when they are of age to make their own decision)
- The work schedules of the parents
- The ties and relationships between the child and the parents
- The physical and mental health of the parents
A visitation agreement is a document that you and your co-parent come up with to indicate the duties and responsibilities of each with regards to visitation. The parent with sole custody of the child or children can also create the visitation agreement. The most critical issues to agree upon are:
- The primary residence of the child
- The visitation schedule and activities
- Any geographical restrictions, and
- Instructions for modification of the agreement
The agreement has to be approved in court before it takes effect. Even when both parents agree, it is best to submit the agreement to make it legal in case of future changes or disagreements.
You need a visitation agreement for these reasons:
- Both of you will know your duties and responsibilities towards the child when they are with you
- The children get to experience the care, love, and guidance of both parents, which helps in their emotional and psychological development
- It helps the child in their growth and development as they are aware of how and where they spend their time in advance
- It allows parents to respect each others’ lives and their roles in their children’s life
Coming Up With a Visitation Schedule
A visitation schedule saves the parents and children the frustration and uncertainty that can be created by divorce and separation. To ensure that everyone adjusts to the new circumstances, you and your co-parent should come up with a visitation schedule detailing the times each parent spends with the child.
In most cases, parents will create a rotating cycle for visitation, for example, the child stays with the custodial parent from Monday to Friday, and the non-custodial parent spends the weekend with the child.
A repeating schedule will give the children and parents a sense of routine and stability, which is essential to the well-being of everyone.
In the visitation schedule, you need to include a schedule for holidays. To create a holiday visitation schedule, you need to list all the holidays and the number of days the holiday lasts. These holidays are then divided between the parents. You can come up with a rotating system for the holidays depending on what you and your partner decide.
When the holiday schedule coincides with the repeating schedule (for regular days and weekends), the holiday schedule takes precedence. This means that if you are supposed to spend Christmas with the child, but it is on the weekend (meaning the non-custodial parent should have regular visitation), you will spend the holiday with the child.
You should also factor in special events and vacations. Special events include soccer or any other activities that your child is involved. These will change the regular visitation schedule. You should notify the other parent in case these events will interfere with the regular visitation schedule.
For vacation, you should indicate the number of days a parent can take the children on vacation. For example, "each parent will have up to two weeks every year to take the children on vacation." You and your partner can also agree to split the summer months or having an alternating schedule – whichever works for you.
The visitation schedule should also include any stipulations and requirements that will help make the visitations smooth. This includes how the child will be transported, the pick-up and drop-off areas, and changes and modifications to the schedule.
Making Changes to the Visitation Schedule
The visitation schedule cannot remain constant for the rest of the child’s life. It will have to go through changes as the parents and children change. You may need to create different visitation schedules for children of various ages. For example, a teenager and a breastfeeding baby have different needs and will require different visitation schedules.
In most cases, you can make minor changes to the schedule without involving the court. Where you have teenage children, you can engage them in creating the visitation schedule so that they can decide on what will suit their lives.
When making modifications to the schedule, ensure that:
- You maintain equal access to the children; the time the non-custodial parent spends with the children should not be reduced
- Inform the court of any changes to make the schedule legally enforceable
- Make sure the visitation schedule is made with the best interests of the child at heart
- The visitation schedule should create stability, therefore, avoid modifying the schedule frequently
If you were denied visitation or would like the non-custodial parent to be denied visitation, you can file a formal request in court for the modification. The court will require you to present credible evidence why the other parent should not spend time with the child.
Types of Child Visitation
Child visitation can either be supervised or unsupervised. The non-custodial parent is not always guaranteed visitation rights depending on various factors as we’ll see below.
No visitation is a court order that bars the non-custodial parent from visiting his/her children. You are denied visitation rights when the court believes that your contact with the child is harmful to his or her emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. You can be denied visitation rights because:
- Traveling between homes would not be in the best interests of the child
- You pose a risk of violence to the child
- You no longer have contact with the child
- You failed to exercise your visitation rights in the past
- You have a history of alcohol and drug abuse
- Your parental rights are terminated
If you have been denied visitation rights, you can have them restored by following the court-approved plan of action. The plan of action could include taking and completing an anger management class, rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abuse, and being clean of drugs for six months. When these conditions are met, you can get the rights for supervised visitation or virtual visitation.
Where the non-custodial parent poses a threat to the child, an adult (who is not the custodial parent) will supervise the visit to ensure that the child is safe. In most cases, supervised visitation is required under the following circumstances:
- The parent abused the child emotionally, physically or sexually
- The parent abused the other parent
- The parent has a history of drug and alcohol abuse
- The parent has an uncontrolled mental condition that poses a risk to the child
- There is a risk of the non-custodial parent kidnapping the child
- The parent wants to start a relationship with the child after being absent
Supervised visitation usually takes place in a designated facility with a designated monitor. You and your co-parent can choose the designated monitor or have the court approve one. The adult can be a colleague, a social worker, a friend, or a relative. He/she is required to stay with the non-custodial parent and the child until the visitation period ends.
When the non-custodial parent changes the behavior that led to the supervised visitation, they may be allowed to have unsupervised visitation. The changes could include counseling and completing an anger management class.
This is the most common type of child visitation. The parent is free to spend time with his/her children for a predetermined time.
Unsupervised visitation gives the non-custodial parent the space to enjoy quality time with their children. The only limitation in this visitation could be the time they spend together and how far they can go. These limitations may be dependent upon the age of the child and other restrictions such as school.
The growth of technology has made communication easier and provided an option for interacting with your children after a divorce or separation. If you have been denied visitation, you can request for virtual visitation rights, which will allow you to maintain contact with your children virtually. You can connect with them through instant messaging and video calls. The custodial parent will be required to facilitate the communication by providing the child with the communication device. He/she is not supposed to censor the communication with the other parent but should let the other parent freely interact with his/her children.
Child Visitation for Unmarried Fathers
As an unmarried father, you have the right to interact with your children. Courts allow child visitation for unmarried fathers under the affirmation that the presence of both parents is beneficial to the growth and development of the child.
The court requires proof of paternity either by confirmation from the mother and father or through DNA testing. DNA testing is usually done where there are disputes about paternity.
You and the mother can come up with a visitation agreement or have the court make a visitation order. When making the decision, the court will determine the father’s relationship with the child and whether there is a history of child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse
In most cases, it is hard for the father to get custody of the child especially if the mother has been raising the child alone. However, you can gain custody if there are valid reasons why the mother should not have custody such as drug and substance abuse or child abuse.
Child Visitation for Grandparents
California law allows grandparents to petition for child visitation under certain the following conditions:
- The death of a parent
- Pending divorce proceedings which include child custody issues
- The parents are not married to each other
- The married parents are not living together due to permanent or indefinite separation
- One of the parents (who are married) supports the grandparents’ right to visitation
- The child does not live with his/her parents
- One parent has been absent for a month, and his/her whereabouts are unknown to the other parent
- A step-parent has adopted the child
In most cases, if you are the grandparent, you have to convince the court that your visiting the child would be beneficial to the welfare of the child. For instance, you are likely to get visitation rights if you had a pre-existing relationship with your grandchildren.
Important Visitation Guidelines for Parents
In the heat of divorce and separation, it is easy to lose focus as you try to outdo each other. Bad feelings can go on even after the divorce and spill over to visitations. Whatever is going on between the two of you should not affect the relationship you have with your children. Both of you should act with maturity and consideration for your children’s well being. Here are the dos and don’ts of visitation.
You should open communication lines with your ex. Keeping the communication lines open is an important thing to do especially if both of you will be sharing parental responsibilities. It also helps the children feel secure. When collecting or dropping off the children, you should avoid arguing with the other parent in front of the children. Otherwise, it will often instill fear, resentment, and eventually affect the children’s development.
If the divorce proceedings are still ongoing, you should communicate directly with your spouse about any issues, not through your children.
Regardless of the problems between you and your spouse, you should treat each other with respect. Being respectful means, you can accept that your relationship did not work out, and forge a future ahead for the sake of your children. Respecting your ex also means you don’t talk about them negatively in front of your children. They will learn from you how to handle disagreements. Arriving on time and dropping off the children at the required time and day also shows respect for your partner. You should also inform them of changes in your life that may affect the visitation schedule such as moving, changing addresses, work demands or illness.
Relationship With Children
Whatever happens between you should not affect your relationship with your children. Remember not to treat them with anger or hurt them for the things your partner did to you. You should also avoid buying loyalty from the children by spoiling them or trying to impress them. Your children should not be used to settle scores with your ex. Also, do not question their loyalty to the other parent or use them to spy on your ex. Be respectful.
You should not use visitation to punish or reward the child’s behavior or your ex. Withholding visitation from your ex could result in losing custody of the child. If you feel the other parent is a threat to your children, the best thing is to go to court to file for a request for supervised or no visitation.
Find a Divorce Lawyer Near Me
Deciding on child visitation can be stressful for parents. It is a good idea to hire the services of a divorce lawyer who will help putting things in perspective for you. The Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer is committed to making the transition easy for you and the children by guiding you through the child visitation process. Contact our Los Angeles divorce attorney today at 310-695-5212 so we can help you.