Parenting Time (aka ‘Visitation’)
Each parent is entitled to liberal parenting time with the child unless it would endanger the physical health of the child or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.
If the parties are unable to agree on parenting time, the court may craft its own parenting plan based on some or all of the following factors:
- the wishes of the parents;
- the wishes of the child. Normally, the court will not give great weight to the opinion of a very young child. Also, the child will not be allowed to attend the court hearings. Consequently, his or her testimony is technically inadmissible hearsay. Some courts will allow in evidence of the child’s wishes if presented by a child family investigator or other independent professional.
- the relationship between the child and his or her parents, siblings and any other person with whom the child has a close relationship. The court may consider factors such as who the child spends time with, whether the child fights or argues with anyone, who comforts the child, whether extended family is closely involved in the child’s life.
- how well the child is integrated into his or her current home, school and community;
- the mental and physical health of all individuals involved. Disability alone is not a basis to deny or restrict parenting time;
- the ability of the parties to share love, affection, and between the child and the other party;
- whether the past pattern of involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of values, time, commitment, and mutual support.
- the physical proximity of the parties to one another;
- whether any party has been a perpetrator of spousal abuse. Any such allegations must be supported by credible evidence.
- the ability of each party to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs.
Regular Parenting Time
Typically, the child lives with one parent the majority of the time and visits the other parent every other weekend. Older children often stay overnight once a week with their non-custodial parent in addition to staying every other weekend. For younger children, the courts often schedule more frequent but shorter visits with the non-residential parent, such as dinner during the week. This reflects the belief by modern child psychologists that younger children should not be away from their primary home for extended periods of time.
Holidays and Vacations
The parties usually alternate which parent the child will be with during major holidays. Most schedules address Spring Break, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, and the child’s birthday. Sometimes the child will spend time with both parents individually on these or other important holidays. Religious holidays are also commonly part of such agreements.
The parties should allocate extended parenting time around the child’s school vacations, such as spring and winter breaks. It is also standard for the parent with less parenting time to receive one or two uninterrupted weeks of parenting time during the summer, assuming the child has extended summer vacations from school.
Transportation is often a critical component of parenting plans, especially if the parties live far from each other. Arrangements must be made concerning who picks up and who drops off the child. If there is a history of harassment or domestic abuse, the parties are often ordered to arrange for exchanges at a neutral, public location, such as a store or restaurant. There are even privately-operated child exchanges that exist for the sole purpose of providing a safe, neutral location for picking up and dropping off children.
Supervised Parenting Time
Supervised parenting time is more commonly court-ordered, rather than the result of an agreement between the parties. It comes into play if one of the parties, or the court, is concerned about the relationship between the other parent and the child or if the other parent has little regular contact with the Child. A court may also order supervised parenting time if one parent is found to be using illegal drugs or has been engaged in any form of domestic violence.
The actual supervision may be formal, such as observation by a case worker, psychologist or other mental health professional in a facility used for that purpose. Informal supervision, on the other hand, can be performed by a family member or friend and may occur anywhere.
Therapeutic Parenting Time and Reunification Therapy
Therapeutic parenting time is like formal supervised visitation except that the supervisor becomes an active participant in the interaction. It often resembles family therapy. Like other forms of formal supervised parenting time, therapeutic parenting time is designed to assist the parent with more effective or appropriate ways to interact with the child and to help stabilize the parent/child relationship in general. If the parent and child have had little or no interaction with each other, the therapy may focus first on “reunification” issues, such as helping build or rebuild trust between the parent and child and identifying goals for visitation.
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