The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Visitation Schedules



What is a visitation schedule?


In family law, visitation schedules -- also referred to as parenting time schedules -- are used to determine how much parenting time will be allotted to the non-custodial parent in a divorced or separated family structure.

Visitation schedules can incorporate actual visitation and virtual visitation rules, as well.


Are visitation schedules the same as shared custody schedules?

Visitation schedules are used for divorced or separated parents where one is the custodial parent, and the other is the noncustodial parent.  Typically this is referred to as sole physical custody; however, different states have different nomenclature for child-custody terms, which can create confusion.

Joint physical custody is different than sole physical custody; there is no noncustodial parent.  Both parents in joint physical custody are considered the custodial parent.  For this reason, parents with joint physical custody would not have a visitation schedule.  They would instead have a custody time schedule.


What considerations should go into creating a visitation schedule?

Maintaining a bond with a parent's children needs to be balanced with giving children what they need.  A good visitation schedule is more than just allocating certain days to each parent; it is about giving a great deal of consideration to the needs of the children and the entire family dynamic.  It is important to approach the creation of a visitation schedule from this perspective, and realize that compromises will need to be made by everyone.  There is simply no way to divorce with children and not have sacrifices.

What is best for the children may not be fairest to the parents.  Parents may want the children to be with them as much as possible; however, if the children are missing out on extracurricular activities, doing extensive travel, and foregoing experiences that their friends and piers are enjoying, the children can become resentful and may even experience psychological problems.


How should visitation schedules be adjusted with a child's age?

Most children become more able to tolerate the transitions from one home to another as they become older, but this can still create problems if they are unable to play sports or participate in other activities because of the non-custodial parent's parenting time.

The needs of an infant are drastically different from the needs of an adolescent, and the visitation schedule should be flexible enough to adjust to the those needs as children grow older.

When multiple children are involved, the situation becomes even more complicated.  Siblings are at different ages and have different needs.  The visitation will largely need to be a compromise of what is best, and what is realistic.


How does distance between households affect a visitation schedule?

Distance is a significant challenge for allocating parenting time.  When children have to travel long distance between custody exchanges, the travel can be a burden, and children can become resentful if the situation is not handled with care.

In addition, there is a financial burden, as well.  For every hour of driving time that the children live from one another, that equates to about $500 each year that is not able to used for the children - money that could be otherwise used for college.

There are ways to make long distance parenting work better.  Using modern technology, divorced parents today are much more able to stay in contact with their children, regardless of where they live.  While no substitute for actually living close to each other, it does make it is easier to maintain a bond between parents and children that do not live together often.


What are some common examples of what to include in many visitation schedules?

A parenting plan should lay out the times and guidelines of a visitation schedule.  Courts tend to make it so that at least 20% of the total parenting time is spent with the non-custodial parent.  This may be more or less depending on the situation.  Joint custody arrangements may be a 50/50 spilt.

Divorcing is almost going to always lead to one party feeling like they are treated unfairly.  It is important to realize that the visitation schedule is going to be based the best interest of the child.  If you are fortunate enough to not be in a high-conflict divorce, co-parenting can help divorced parents cope with the inequities in a visitation schedule.


What are the biggest issues that must be confronted with a visitation schedule?

Conflict between parents, distance between homes, and age of the children are arguably the biggest challenges to a visitation schedule.

When parents cannot talk to each other, creating a visitation schedule is extremely challenging on often leads to litigation.  Any litigation is typically very expensive, and typically leads to even more conflict.  Conflict breed more conflict.

To overcome this issue, mediation can help parents create a visitation schedule, by helping parents work out issues they would not otherwise be able to discuss rationally.

When distance between households becomes a factor, the visitation schedule must adapt to that reality.  Sacrifices will need to be made by all parties.  For the noncustodial parent, the compromise will likely be a long stretch during the school year where they only see the children every other weekend.  For the custodial parent, they are likely going to not have the children most of the summer.  For the children, the compromise is giving up commitments that require regular attendance every weekend, such as high school sports or other extra curricular activities.

Age of the children
Because children of different ages have different needs, the visitation schedule should attempt to adapt to those needs, if possible.


How is child support based on the visitation schedule?


Child support is based on the income of each parent, the number of children involved, certain other expenses that are incurred on the children's behalf, and the amount of parenting time throughout the year that each parent has.  It differs from state-to-state, but those are the basic variables that get incorporated into a child support calculation.

Still, there can be unusual deviations in how child support is calculated.  In some cases, it may be skewed unfairly one way or another.  In cases where it is not fairly distributed, it can be adjusted by the court.  Changes and parenting time, income, other other expenses can facilitate a change in child support.



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