Visitation rights are one element of a parenting plan that parents who divorce will have to present to the court as part of a legal separation or divorce. If the parents don’t or can’t agree, a judge will make a decision based on the best interest of the child or children involved. The parenting plan can assign sole custody of the child(ren) or shared / joint custody. In either case visitation rights and privileges will be specified to avoid confusion.
Unless it can be shown that visitation or contact with a parent would be detrimental to the interest of the child, a court will usually grant reasonable visitation rights. In making this decision the court recognizes that regular contact with both parents is generally a positive factor and a stabilizing force in a child’s life following a divorce or separation.
Conditions on visitation rights may be ordered by the court if the judge feels the child may be in any danger. This can include a bar on visitation for one parent who may present a threat to the child’s safety or welfare. They may also order that any visitation be supervised so that the child is fully protected. In some cases grandparents and stepparents as well as partners in domestic partnerships may also be entitled to request visitation rights.
The court may also take into consideration the age of the child, any expressed preference by the child, and / or any special needs. Visitation rights can not be limited because the parents disagree about religious beliefs, sexual preference or any lifestyle choices that one or the other may make unless these decisions are shown to be detrimental to the child’s health or safety.
A custodial parent is expected to make the child available for visitation and to make all accommodations to ensure that this happens. If they fail to do this they are open to sanctions and possible contempt charges by the court. In the case of teenagers who refuse to allow visitation to the non-custodial parent, it is a little less clear because even though the law says the custodial parent must accommodate, the teenager may still refuse and there is little remedy available to the other parent in such a case.
If a significant change in circumstances occurs following a court order of visitation, either party may apply to the court for modification of the order. Examples of situations that would effect a visitation order might include the desire of an older child to have increased / decreased visitation with the non-custodial parent, a relocation of one of the parents, or any suspicion or evidence of child abuse.
Because of the delicate and complicated nature of visitation rights it is very useful to have an attorney’s advice and guidance before and after the divorce proceedings.