Summary in Divorce

Visitation is based on visitation rights, court-ordered privileges and stipulations granting not only the noncustodial parent, but in some cases grandparents or interested third parties the right to visit a child at fixed times and dates and for a fixed duration. These privileges and stipulations are subject to modification, and are derived from the gold standard in child custody -- the best interest of the child.

Unless there is a compelling reason otherwise, the noncustodial parent (who is usually the father) is given scheduled time to see and visit with his or her children. The terms and condition of these visits are generally spelled out in what is termed the parenting plan. These visits may be for hours a week or weekends and even parts of the year. The visitation schedule is one of the many tasks divorcing couples face when their marriage collapses.

Visitation cannot be considered apart from the context of child custody, which is a decision based on the best interest of the child. Increasingly, courts lean toward joint custody, which is also known as shared custody. In awarding joint custody, the single most important consideration is the ability of the parents to cooperate. In fact, in cases where both parties can cooperate for the benefit of the child, joint legal custody awards are generally upheld even when one or both parents may have sought sole custody. Joint legal custody to both parents does not preclude sole physical custody to one parent.

A good parenting agreement not only spells out the terms and conditions of custody and child support, but also schedules visitation times and protocols, including holidays, birthdays and vacations as well as any special days. Often the visitation schedule is included in the separation agreement.

While the claim of a noncustodial father to visitation is almost always upheld, the claims of grandparents or interested third parties are subject to contention by the custodial parent. Since Troxel v. Granville, a 2000 Supreme Court ruling, the claims of grandparents to visitation have been sharply limited.

When visiting a child, the noncustodial parent should keep the conversation focused on his or her activities. A noncustodial parent can torpedo the visit by using the time to complain about the former spouse or as a debriefing session for information about the former partner.

Visits are supervised by a responsible adult when the noncustodial parent is accused of child abuse or neglect. Sometimes supervised visitation happens in a visitation center, a place where a parent and child visit under controlled conditions, sometimes for a fee, when the parent is accused of sexually abusive behavior.

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