Child Visitation Law

What is Child Visitation Law?

Child visitation law governs the rights of non-custodial parents to spend time with their child. These cases are usually handled by state courts as part of broader family law proceedings dealing with issues such as divorce, separation, alimony, and child support and custody. Visitation rights allow the parent with whom the child does not live to take physical custody of the child for specific, regularly-scheduled periods of time.

A number of legal disputes can arise with respect to child visitation. The parents may not be able to agree to a visitation schedule, requiring the court to step in and decide the matter. Once a schedule has been determined, one parent may decide that subsequent events have created a need to alter the schedule, again leading to potential disagreement between the parties. Contention can also result when the custodial parent feels the child is not being properly cared for during visits, when the non-custodial parent keeps the child longer than allowed, or when a grandparent seeks visitation over the objection of the parents.

Regardless of the nature of a visitation dispute, this area of the law is often characterized by a hostile emotional atmosphere created by the failure of the parents' previous romantic relationship. After a couple parts ways, the animosity they feel toward each other can make it very difficult for them to agree on child visitation issues without court intervention. Sadly, when parents cannot behave amicably, the child is the one who suffers most.

The "Best Interests of the Child" Standard

Family law courts settle child visitation disputes by applying a standard known as the "best interests of the child." This phrase, articulated almost identically by courts of every state, is used to reference a child's physical, emotional, and developmental welfare. Especially in situations where the nature of the parents' disagreement regarding visitation has more to do with their own personal concerns, the standard serves to refocus everyone's attention on the issue at hand - the needs and wellbeing of the child.

Most child visitation statutes make reference to the best interests of the child, and then provide a list of factors for the court to consider when applying the standard. These factors include each parent's emotional ties to the child, the financial support each parent contributes, and each parent's ability to provide a safe, stable, and nurturing home environment. Courts will also decide visitation in a way that avoids disrupting the child's education and social support structure. The expressed desires of children themselves are relevant, but never determinative.

Establishing Visitation Rights

The first step toward obtaining a child visitation order will depend on whether the parties are already involved in a family law case. If so, the non-custodial parent can prepare a motion for visitation and file it in the existing case. As long as both parents agree that the request is appropriate, the process will be as simple as presenting a stipulated order to the judge for his or her signature. It is important to note that parents requesting visitation must begin paying child support, if they are not currently doing so.

If a case does not already exist, the parent seeking visitation must initiate one. When the parents are married, visitation can be requested as part of a suit for divorce or separation. Otherwise, the issue can be raised by filing a petition to determine custody and support. Fathers bringing these cases will be required to establish paternity and prove they are satisfying child support obligations before the court will consider the merits of the visitation request.

Modification of a Visitation Order

Modification of child visitation is one of the most heavily litigated issues in the field of family law. This is not surprising, as the living situation of the parties is sure to evolve between the time the original order is entered, and the time the child turns 18. The court will retain jurisdiction during this entire period. When a modification becomes necessary, either parent can make the request. Because child support is dependent upon the amount of time each parent has custody, requests to modify visitation and support are typically made at the same time.

While courts will always rely on the best interests of the child standard, requests to modify visitation are also governed by the "changed circumstances" standard of proof. That is, the parent filing the motion must prove that since the order or most recent modification was entered, circumstances have changed and the previous schedule is no longer suitable. Examples of changed circumstances include the relocation of either parent, failure of one parent to abide by the current schedule, requests by the child to spend more or less time with a parent, and so forth.

Situations Requiring an Attorney

Child visitation, like other family law matters, is greatly affected by the degree to which the parents cooperate. If you and the other parent cannot agree on visitation, an attorney can make sure the court considers your point of view, and does what is right for your child. Contact a child visitation lawyer to find out more.


Child Visitation Law - Know Your Rights!

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    Child custody includes the physical and legal responsibilities of parenting. Often, when one parent has sole physical custody the other parent will receive set visitation rights. When parents agree on child custody and visitation schedules, they can develop their own custody agreement.

  • Do Grandparents and Other Family Members Have Visitation Rights

    The concept of grandparent visitation rights is a fairly new one. Historically, only parents could ask for visitation rights, but now states allow a variety of different family members to ask for visitation of related children.

  • Who Determines How Much Visitation a Parent Gets?

    Many people are confused by the process of determining child custody and visitation. It can be a stressful time, so confusion is only natural. But, many ask who gets to determine how much visitation a parent gets? Is it the court? The parent with custody? The parent seeking visitation? The child? A government agency?

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