The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term


What is visitation?

Visitation is the time a noncustodial parent has to be with his/her children after a divorce or separation is referred to child visitation. Visitation is an arrangement designed to allow each parent remain a part of their children’s lives despite the marital relationship having dissolved.

How many child-custody agreements have a visitation agreement?

It is estimated that roughly 30 percent of the children in the United States reside in homes with a single-parent and have a noncustodial parent.

How do courts decide on who gets custody and who gets visitation?

The family court will make decisions regarding child custody, child visitation, and child support when children are involved in a divorce. The two kinds of custody are legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves the right of the parent to make significant decisions regarding the child’s development. Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with primarily who is also called the custodial parent or guardian. The courts base their decision on what is considered in the "best interest" of the child and attempt to protect the child’s welfare.

Do courts favor one gender over the other?

Courts do not favor one gender over the other; however, there are statistically more women who are custodial parents than men.  The reason for this is a blend of complex social factors, but it is not directly related to a gender preference.  The days of the tender years doctrine, where women were automatically given custody, have ended.  The best interest of the child doctrine has replaced how courts view custody cases.

Courts typically adhere to the belief that a child having both parents involved is most beneficial, except in extreme cases, and they will generally attempt to grant joint custody when feasible.  When parents can agree on the terms, they should design a parenting plan detailing child visitation according to them. When to parents agree on the terms of child visitation it is referred to as "reasonable visitation".  The court will intervene when parents aren’t able to agree on the child visitation schedule.

A mandated child visitation schedule may be provided by the court.  The mandate (or court order) will detail the way child visitation rights will be divided. The typical visitation schedule mandated by the court is that the noncustodial parent has the child from Friday after school to Sunday at evening, every other weekend, certain holidays, and occasional week days.  The summer is typically allocated to the noncustodial parent, with a summer vacation block for the custodial parent.

Can a court deny or block visitation by a parent?

It is not legal for a custodial parent to block visitation that is court-ordered to the noncustodial parent.  There are several common reasons that a custodial parent may attempt to deny visitation, such as unpaid child support, concern over parenting methods, or feeling that the children may be in danger.  None of these reasons allow the custodial parent to unilaterally decide that the custodial parent will no longer be able to have parenting time with their children.  In each situation, the custodial parent should consult an attorney, seek mediation, or contact the appropriate agency that might help to resolve the issue.

While family courts prefer for the noncustodial parent to have generous child visitation rights, the court may decide to disallow or restrict visitation rights for a parent if visitation is not in the child’s best interest.  A family law judge, in such cases, may decide for sole custody to one parent and no visitation to the other; however this is unusual.  Supervised visitation is more likely than ending visitation completely.

The following are reasons a family law judge may disallow visitation or decide for supervised visitation from a noncustodial parent: abuse or neglect of the child in the past, the parent has placed the child in harms way, the parent has threatened to take the child away, alcohol or drug abuse.

What is supervised visitation?

In the situations described above a family court judge might decide to allow the noncustodial parent some child visitation rights. For instance, the judge may allow visitation only if supervised by a neutral third party.  This is referred to as supervised visitation or monitored visitation.

There are many legal issues pertaining to child visitation including the following: the modification of child visitation rights, rights of other family members to child visitation, temporary child visitation orders, child support,and many other various situations.

What is a visitation schedule or visitation calendar?

Child visitation typically follows a set schedule that is coordinated between the divorced or separated parents. The schedule that is created for the purpose of visitation is called a parenting time calendar or child visitation schedule. The purpose of the child visitation calendar is to create a time schedule that allows the noncustodial parent to visit the child often, and one that works in the best interest of the child.

What are the roles of the custodial & non-custodial parent when one has sole physical custody?

When a visitation agreement is established, one of the parents becomes the primary custodial parent. The other parent - the one that is granted visitation rights - is referred to as the noncustodial parent. It is very important to know what these terms mean, and what expectations are associated with each parent.

The terms "primary custodial parent" and "noncustodial parent" refer to physical custody only. They do not refer to legal custody. This means that both parents are expected to discuss and agree on big decisions that affect a child’s upbringing. Issues like what religion to follow, whether to go to public or private school, and other big decisions, must be coordinated between each parent.

The roles for both the custodial and noncustodial parent overlap, although there are some differences that are important.  The custodial parent has the children most of the time, and they will therefore be the parent who is likely responsible for most of the day-to-day child rearing responsibilities.  The noncustodial parent will have the role of making the most out of the parenting time that they have, such that a strong bond can be established.  A strong bond between the parents and the children is what gives parents the most leverage in guiding their children through tough decisions as they get older.

What is long-distance visitation?

Long-distance visitation is a type of visitation schedule where the parents live far enough away from each other, that having a parenting time schedule with nearly equal time with the children becomes impractical. Typical visitation schedules for parents with long distances between them involve a custody exchange every other weekend, but the noncustodial parent having the majority of the summer break with the children. Holidays may be split, but allocated with more parenting time to the noncustodial parent, in order to make up for the time lost during the normal school year.

There are several issues that arise during long-distance visitation situations, which should be considered before parents move out-of-state or a significant distance from one another. Children will likely lose out on the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities that involve regular weekend commitments. This can not only lead to lost opportunities for the children, but it can lead to resentment, as well.

The other issue is cost. Having custody exchanges that involve frequent long-distance travel is expensive, and it demands significant time for each party.

Many feel that any benefits that are gained by the relocation for one parent, are outweighed by the lost opportunities, wasted financial resources, diminished parenting time by the other parent.  Furthermore, the issues with long-distance parenting can be a source of conflict between both parents.

What are problems with the word “visitation”?

There has been a shift away from the term "visitation".  The more modern term is "parenting time", which more accurately implies that the child is with a parent – not a visitor.  Most noncustodial parents had issues with the term visitation, insisting that it diminished the importance of their role in their children’s lives.

Does the noncustodial parent have the right to make long-term decisions about the child?

If both parents have legal custody, then both parents have an equal say in the long-term decisions about a child. This is referred to as joint legal custody.

It is common for parents to have a custody agreement where one is the custodial parent and the other is the noncustodial parent, yet have joint legal custody. It is important to know the difference between legal custody and physical custody.

Being the custodial parent only applies to physical custody.  It does not apply to legal custody, and as such, some parents have had issues in court by not allowing the noncustodial parent to have an equal say in long-term decisions, such as what religion to follow, what medical treatment to receive, and what type of schooling to go to.

What is virtual visitation?

Virtual visitation is simply the idea of communicating with a child using electronic technologies, such as phone, texting, email, social media, video conferencing (Skype), social media, and instant messaging.

Virtual visitation is a practical and helpful supplement to physical time with the children, especially when the parents live far away from one another.

How is visitation related to child support?

Child support is calculated based on several variables, but two of the most important are the incomes of each parent and the time that each parent has with the children. Generally, the more time a parent has with the children, the more they are assumed to be paying to raise that child. This increases the child support they are expected to receive.

Child support is intended to be the financial obligation of each parent paying their financial obligation associated with the raising of the child. Child support calculations are not perfect; however, they must be abided by until a more equitable system is created that awards parenting time more fairly.

If a parent does not have visitation, are they still obligated to pay child support?

Child support actually increases when a parent has less visitation.  In other words, child support and parenting time are inversely proportional.  A noncustodial parent is entitled to visitation with their children, and if the custodial parent is hindering visitation, it is possible that they may have issues in court if the noncustodial parent wages a complaint.

There is an element of unfairness in the idea that parenting time and child support are inversely proportional to one another.  Many noncustodial parents feel that the one without child custody, essentially loses out twice.  They not only don't get to be with their children as much as they would like, but they also have to pay for not having them.

Despite the problems with child support calculations, child support is a legal responsibility, and not paying child support can have serious consequences.

Can visitation rights be revoked for not paying child support?

Visitation rights cannot be withheld for nonpayment of child support.  There are legal steps the custodial parent can take in order to collect child support in arrears, but the noncustodial parent is still entitled to their parenting time with their children.

If a person is willingly not paying their child support obligation, then their may be serious consequences to those actions.  Unpaid child support can be garnished from an obligator's wages, but this is only effective if the noncustodial parent has stable employment.

Parenting Time Calendars & Visitation Schedules
This article shows and explains how different parenting time schedules work.
Child Visitation Rights
This article explains child visitation rights, and what the primary and non-custodial parent can expect in their visitation arangement.
Child-focused visitation decisions
From the Supervised Visitation Network, this article offers wonderful tips on making the most out of visitation for children of all ages.

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