In a child custody order, a court will designate physical and legal custody and spell out visitation rights, which will include the days and times that a child will spend with each parent. Even if a judge refuses to grant one parent physical or legal custody over a child, that parent is still entitled to visitation under the law.
When a judge orders “reasonable visitation,” a custody order won’t spell out each parent’s time with the child. Instead, it’s up to the parents to decide an appropriate schedule for visits. What constitutes “reasonable visitation” varies from case to case and state to state.
If one parent receives “reasonable visitation" in a custody order, the parties will have a lot of leeway in determining what's reasonable, including times, dates and frequency of visitation. However, a visitation order without a set visitation schedule can be unpredictable and at times, inconvenient.
For an infant child, one parent’s reasonable visitation may be occasional day visits, with rare overnights. In cases involving older children, a noncustodial parent (parent without primary physical custody) may have longer visits that involve overnights.
Most custody orders result in a fixed visitation schedule. As the name implies, there’s not a lot of room for interpretation if a judge orders a fixed visitation schedule in your case. Fixed visitation schedules are usually very detailed and spell out the following:
The benefits of carefully-drafted, fixed visitation schedules are that they leave very little room for argument. With all of the detailed covered in the agreement, you and your child's parent will know exactly when and where your child custody visits will occur and can plan accordingly.
A judge will consider either spouse’s history of domestic violence when deciding custody. Generally, if the court finds that there was a history of abuse, a judge can include in your custody order specific protections aimed at preventing future violence or abuse.
For example, often a judge will order supervised visits between the abusive parent and child to ensure the child’s safety during visits. Supervised visits may take place at a center with licensed supervisors or in the presence of a mutually agreeable third-party. In either case, the goal of supervised visits it to ensure that the violent parent is not left alone with the child. In other cases, a court may order gradual visits between a parent and child, until a judge feels confident that the child is safe in the parent’s care.
All 50 states recognize some form of grandparent visitation. Nevertheless, each state’s laws vary in terms of what’s required for a grandparent to establish visits. Specifically, some state laws only allow a grandparent to seek visitation in the most extreme circumstances, such as if one or both of the child’s parents have died. Other state rules are much more lenient and allow judges to order grandparent visitation as long it serves a child’s best interests.
A grandparent’s visitation rights are almost always secondary to a parent’s rights over a child. Still, if you’ve been preventing contact between your child and your child's grandparent, the grandparent can ask a court to intervene. In some cases, a court will award a grandparent visitation with a child, particularly if the child and grandparent previously had a close relationship.
If you’re determined to limit your child's time with a grandparent, be prepared to make your case for why continued visitation wouldn’t serve your child’s best interests. Grandparents typically have a lot to offer grandchildren–including wisdom, experience, and unconditional love. But if you have valid reasons for wanting to minimize a grandparent’s negative impact on your child, be prepared to present those reasons to a judge.
As a grandparent, your rights are almost always secondary to a parent’s. In some states, a grandparent can’t seek court-ordered visits unless the child’s parent is deceased or incarcerated. Other states allow a grandparent to seek court-ordered visitation when the visits would serve a child’s best interests, and the lack of visitation would actually harm the child.
Grandparents can ask a court to intervene and force visits, but dealing directly with the child’s parent may help your relationship more in the long run. Mediation is another option to help individuals resolve their differences outside the courtroom. In mediation, a neutral third-party mediator will shuttle between each side to help negotiate an agreement. Yet, a court won’t sign off on your agreement unless it serves the child’s best interests.
Parents are encouraged to submit their own parenting plans or proposed visitation schedules. You are far more familiar than a judge with your family's dynamics and needs, and judges often defer to parents to make the schedule that works best for their children. A court will review any parenting agreement to ensure that it’s reasonable and adequately meets the child’s needs. It’s important to make sure your parenting agreement is detailed enough to minimize conflict and argument over the child.