When a divorce reaches the child custody stage of proceedings, a judge may order a visitation plan that determines how parents will share time with their children. Visitation orders are decided by a number of factors, such as how old the children are, what work requirements each parent has, and what each parent’s living arrangements are like.
As with custody itself, the focus of visitation is the child’s best interest – not either of the parent’s. This means that even if a parent isn’t awarded custody but has visitation rights, the court acknowledges that the child’s relationship with that parent is important enough to preserve.
That said, visitation isn’t just one thing. There a few different types of visitation that a judge can order during custody proceedings.
Sometimes parents can work out a visitation schedule on their own or through a mediator. A judge can confirm this plan and implement it as a court order. Scheduled plans typically involve specific dates and times that children will spend with each parent. Schedules can include regular days of the week, holidays, and school vacations. There’s even room to account for special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, graduations, and other important events.
This is a type of visitation order that is open-ended, for the most part. The judge is ordering that visitation must reasonably occur but leaves it up for the parents to decide what that means for them. If parents have inconsistent work schedules, travel a lot, or don’t feel a strict schedule is necessary, reasonable visitation orders can provide them with the flexibility they need to manage their careers and time with their kids.
If there are concerns about a parent’s history with domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental illness, a judge may order supervised visitation. This permits the parent to only have contact with a child when a neutral third party is present. The neutral third party can be another family member, friend, or a social worker tasked with supervising the visit between the parent and child.
Supervised visitation can also be ordered when the child and parent are just getting to know each other. This can happen if a child was born or very young while a parent was incarcerated, deployed in the U.S. military, or even had no prior knowledge of the child’s existence until recently.
Courts can also preclude the possibility of a parent’s contact with his or her child by ordering no visitation. In this situation, a judge is deciding that a child’s health or emotional development is in danger even if a third party was there to supervise.
No visitation can be ordered from the beginning or ordered at a later time if a parent feels that their child’s continued contact with the other parent is harmful or dangerous. As with any custody or visitation decision, a case must be presented to a judge who will decide what is ultimately in the child’s best interests.
It’s important for parents to follow the legal process for altering visitation because violating an existing order may lead to criminal charges such as contempt of court or even child abduction.