The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Visitation Rights

What are child visitation rights?

Child visitation rights are rights that a family court grants to to the non-custodial parent, with the purpose of that parent spending time with his or her child/children following a divorce or separation.  Visitation rights are decided on by family courts, and they can be changed or revoked by the court if the court has reason to do so.

How do courts decide child custody rights for children after a divorce?

Child visitation rights attempt to adhere to the best interest of the child standard, but it is common for the non-custodial parent to feel as if being relegated to a lesser role as the child's parent, by the court.  To address that issue, courts are more often awarding joint custody arrangements to both parents after a divorce or separation, which has the benefit of keeping both parents at a more equal balance in their children's lives.

What should parent consider with regard to children's visitation rights?

Often, the impact that the visitation agreement has on the children is overlooked by parents who become entrenched on "winning" custody.  To have the best possible scenario for the well-being of the children, there are some things that divorced parent should attempt to work toward.

For divorced parents who are amicable, co-parenting is an great way that they can work to raise their children together, even if they live in different homes.  While co-parenting typically implies joint custody, it doesn't have to.  There are many reasons why joint custody might not be viable.  Job schedules, distance between homes, family issues, and other factor might make a sole custody arrangement necessary.  Coparenting is still possible even if the custodial time with the children is not equal.

Parallel Parenting
Parallel parenting is an option for divorced parents with higher conflict.  Parallel parenting can be used in to help parents avoid conflict and each parent the children they way they see fit when it is their parenting time.

Avoid long-distance visitation
When child visitation rights are established for a divorced family, the distance that the parents live from one another can play a critical role on the relationships between the children and the parents.  When parents live far apart, the logistal stresses associated with custody exchanges and time away from friends can take a tremendous toll.  Parents should attempt to avoid this situation, if at all possible.  There are many negative consequences associated with divorce on children, and long distance visitation is often on of the common factors that leads to these issues.

Consider virtual visitation
If parents do live far apart, virtual visitation can help the parents maintain a strong bond with their children when it is not their custodial time.  For virtual visitation to be successful, both parents should have the mindset that it is important and necessary for the children to have a good relationship with their other parent.  Virtual visitation can be a part of the divorced decree and child visitation rights that the parents agree to.

Squash parental alienation before it starts
Parental alienation is any communication commited by one parent that denegartes the other parent where the child might hear or witness it.  Parental alienation does not have to be verbal.  Gestures and passive agressive behavior that communicate negativity about the other parent could also be be parental alienation.  Publically making negative statements about the other parent on social media sites like Facebook would also be considered parental alienation, since there is a chance that a child might find it.

The problem with parental alienation is it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the children.  No matter what the other parent has allegedly done to deserve being derided, your children still deserve to have the best possible relationship with them.

How does a history of abuse affect child visitation rights?

Child visitation rights may be either supervised visitation or unsupervised visitation.  Unsupervised visitation is more common.  Typically, supervised visitation is only required if there is violence reported and proven, or there has been an abuse of the child visitation rights.

How do children's visitation rights differ with mother versus fathers?

Child visitation rights, ideally, should not depend on gender.  It is common among divorced or separated parents to assume that bias by the family court system leads to different rights for fathers vs. mothers.  But before assuming bias leads to inequities, let's attempt to understand how child visitation rights are determined in the first place.

Most child custody cases are not decided in the court room.  Rather, they are mediated.  When a child custody case is mediated, a mutual decision by the parents is used to determine how the child custody rights should be determined.  Often, fathers accept inferior child visitation rights during mediation for a variety of reasons.  Some assume that they are not likely to do better, and they acquiesce.  Some fathers have committed adultery and let that guilt affect the mediation process.  Others are faced with something that we refer to as the "head-start problem" — a situation where the parent that initiates the divorce has an unfair advantage over the other parent.  In most divorce cases, two-thirds of the cases are initiated by the woman.

In situations where a child custody case does go to court, the head-start problem is a significant problem for the person who did not initiate the divorce.  The person who initiated the divorce is often better prepared in court, and this often leads to them getting more a favorable outcome in family court.

How can child visitation rights be modified?

Often, divorced or separated parents will find that they need to modify the custody arrangement or child visitation rights they have specified in their divorce decree.  If either parent is not satisfied with the custody arrangement or visitation schedule, there are steps they can take to have it modified.

For divorced parents who are amicable
When divorced parents are amicable and able to openly communicate issues with each other, the best approach to modifying how child visitation rights are set is to discuss the issues with the other parent.  Having an amicable relationship solves a great deal of frustration and money when issues arise.  Unfortunately, far too many divorced or separated parents are not amicable.

For divorced parents who are not amicable
Depending on the level of conflict, discussing potential changes with the other parent may not be a good idea.  Modifying child visitation rights when the other parent is not willing to compromise means that you will need to pursue the changes by legal means.  This means looking at the divorce decree to see what instructions and guidelines it requires.

If the divorce decree has a mediation clause or an arbitration clause, then it will be necessary to first go to a mediator (mediation clause) or arbitrator (arbitration clause).  If neither a mediation clause or arbitration clause exists, then going to court to have the divorce decree via litigation modified is likely the first step.

How do child visitation rights affect child support?

Child support is greatly affected by the amount of time each parent has custodial time with the children.  Thus, a parent with significantly less time with the children is likely to have to pay the other parent more child support.

There are several different types of child support calculation models.  Income for each parent is another factor that affects the child support calculation, but time with the children is often the most significant factor.  There are some significant problems with this approach to determining child support.

One problem in using custodial time as the basis for child support calculations is that it leads parents to fight for child visitation rights for the wrong reason.  Many divorced parents attempt to get more custodial time because of the child support ramifications, rather than what is best for the children.  Divorce attorneys often encourage divorcing parents to do things that do not benefit the children because of the child support consequences.

Another problem with custodial time being such a big component in child support calculations is that it isn't a realistic factor in the actual expenses incurred by the parents.  For example, if a parent has a 50/50 spilt in custodial time, each parent can be assumed to have about the same child-related expenses.  But if there is an 80/20 split in custodial time, it does not really mean that the parent with less time only incurs 20% of the total child-rearing expenses.  Each parent still must have a home suitable to raising children.  Each parent needs a vehicle suitable to driving children to where they need to go.  In fact, the parent with less time often incurs more food and entertainment expenses because they feel the need to plan fun activities with the children during their parenting time.

Family courts need to reevaluate how custodial time, child visitation rights, and child support calculations are related.



7 Steps to modify child visitation
Learn how a child custody or visitation schedule can be modified.
Child support calculators by state
Learn how child support is calculated in your state.

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