Visitation is the right of the child(ren) to see his/her non-custodial parent. It is a concept closely tied to traditional custody solutions wherein one parent has the primary physical custody of the children and the other parent becomes the visiting parent. If you chose this type of parenting situation, then it becomes important to work out a comprehensive schedule of visitation entitlement for the non-custodial parent. However, even if you have worked out a sharing of the physical custody, certain aspects of visitation may require modifications in the future. Different family traditions or special occasions such as birthdays, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, weddings etc., may require that the child(ren) visit with a particular parent on a particular day or occasion. This may be true no matter what kind of parental sharing agreement is in place.
Visitation with the visiting parent is optional and cannot be ordered or forced upon such parent.
Parents should be aware that children look forward to the visiting parent picking them up and being with them during visitation times. They may become disappointed if the visiting parent fails to honor the schedule. In addition, the child(ren) may be disappointed when they are picked-up for a visit with their father or mother, and then are left with a girlfriend, aunt, uncle, or grandmother, while the visiting parent engages in an activity without the child(ren).
As the child(ren) get older, into their teenage years, they are not always amenable to following a visitation schedule that has been agreed upon by lawyers and others. Whether a teenager visits with a parent or not often depends on the relationship between the teenager and the parent. A good relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child(ren) during the child(ren)’s earlier years will enable the non-custodial parent continues to enjoy a close relationship following the divorce.
Courts are reluctant to order an older teenager to visit with a parent where there is an unequivocal desire by the child(ren) to not visit with the parent, particularly where there has been, for example, an erratic visitation pattern by the non-custodial parent, or the failure to pay child support. Whether a court will order the child(ren) to visit is a matter that must be decided on a case-by-case basis.
An example of a basic visitation or parenting schedule might reflect the following:
- Alternate weekends from Friday 5 p.m. through Sunday 7 p.m.
- One afternoon during the week from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- Alternate holidays
- Two to four weeks during the Summer
- Father’s Day with the father
- Mother’s Day with the mother
- Children’s Birthday alternating years
- Father’s Birthday with the father
- Mother’s Birthday with the mother
Many other schedules may be customized to the needs of the parents.
Holidays are important. They often involve family traditions as well as days off from school. It may be that holidays important to one parent are not very important to the other. If that is the case, it may influence who will be scheduled to be with the child(ren) on a particular holiday. Think not only of the usual major holidays such as Thanksgiving; Christmas; Easter; New Years and Labor Day, but also about other holidays that may have special significance such as religious holidays or Memorial Day, if that is when you traditionally get together with your parents for a weekend picnic. Consider which holidays may have special significance to you but not to your spouse. In cases where a holiday holds special significance to both of you, you can consider alternating the holiday so that each of you will have the child(ren) on alternate years, or splitting the holiday so that part of the day is spent with each of you. In general, one day school holidays which fall on a Monday are considered part of the weekend.
Lengthy school vacations such as Christmas; Easter and February break, not only represent an opportunity to have a long visit with the child(ren), but they also represent a responsibility to provide child care, especially when children are young. Often people use a long school holiday to take a trip or family visit. In these cases you might consider your usual pattern and agree that the child(ren) will spend the extended vacation with one or the other of you. Here, too, alternating by year might work.
Most people want the right to take their child(ren) with them on an extended vacation at least once each year. We have already discussed extended vacations during the school year, but most often extended vacations take place during the Summer months. For that reason, it is important to consider providing an extended vacation each year. The important issues here are whether the child(ren) want to go on the vacation and that the non-vacationing parent is informed well in advance of the vacation and the location, so that the child(ren) can be reached in case of emergency.
Visitation with Relatives
For some people it might be important to include some thoughts regarding visitation with grandparents or other special people in the child(ren)’s life. The child(ren) often has/have meaningful and sometimes very important relationships with family members other than their parents.
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