Determining Visitation Rights

Visitation gives a non-custodial parent—that is, the parent who is not the child’s primary caregiver—the legal right to see and spend time with his or her child. Visitation is generally granted by a judge during a child custody hearing. Parents are usually free to work out their own arrangements, although the custodial parent has a bit more control over the dates and times of visits. However, in cases where hostility exists between the child’s parents and they cannot agree on a schedule, the court may assist by determining visitation rights. Fixed visitation designates a particular timetable—such as every Wednesday afternoon or every other weekend—for the non-custodial parent and the child to follow.

In cases where the non-custodial parent has a history of spousal abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, drug dependency, or violent behavior, a judge may mandate supervised visitation or deny visitation altogether. Supervised visitation requires that a court-approved adult (such as a social worker or trusted relative) be present at all times during the child’s visit with the non-custodial parent.

How are visitation rights determined?

In general, ‘reasonable visitation’ is usually the first option given to the non-custodial parent. Reasonable visitation is often the most practical solution because it allows the two parents to create a flexible visitation plan that works with their own and their children’s schedule. Its primary drawback is the fact that in most cases, the custodial parent retains the final say as to when and where visitation takes place. Reasonable visitation works best when the parents are able to maintain a civil relationship with one another.

If either parent is unhappy with reasonable visitation or if there is considerable hostility between them, the court may devise its own visitation schedule. The schedule may vary depending on the distance between the parents’ home and what is easiest on the child.

Are grandparents automatically granted visitation rights?

Presently, courts issue visitation rights only to non-custodial parents, not to grandparents. Grandparents usually have no legal rights to visitation; it is usually up to a child’s parents to decide on the issue. Usually the only cases where grandparents are officially awarded visitation by judges involve the Visitation Rights Enforcement Act of 1998. This law states that grandparents who are granted visitation in one state are legally entitled to visitation in all states. For example, if a grandmother is awarded visitation in Illinois but her grandchild relocates to California, the grandmother is protected under the act and can visit her grandchild in California.

Do siblings that do not live with the child have visitation rights?

No. Currently, according to family law, a sibling does not have inherent visitation rights. If the child’s parents grant the sibling permission to visit, then the sibling may do so. However, the sibling legally must have that permission to visit or he is in violation of the law. In cases where a child’s custodial parent dies, the sibling still may not visit the child unless he successfully petitions the state or is granted visitation rights by the new custodial parent.

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