If you are going through a divorce or child custody case and a court orders that one parent will have primary physical custody, the court will almost always award some visitation to the other parent. The visitation may be on a schedule that the parents decide themselves, or the court may order supervised or unsupervised visitation. Here's what you need to know.
Visitation Schedules in North Carolina
Many parents decide to work out their own visitation schedule so that they have more control than they would if they let a court decide on a schedule. When trying to work out a parenting plan and visitation schedule with the other parent, there are several important considerations including the following:
- The child's school schedule, including any after-school activities
- Transportation to and from visitation—which parent will provide it
- Parent's work schedules
- Availability of relatives or a responsible adult to care for a child while a parent is at work
- Age of the child
- How parents will communicate with a child when the child is in the other parent's care
If parents cannot agree on a visitation schedule, a court will order one. Courts make visitation schedule determinations based on the best interests of a child. A typical visitation schedule allows a non-custodial parent visitation with a child approximately every other weekend and every other holiday. An order regarding visitation will typically include which parent must provide transportation to and from visitation and specific times when the visitation exchange will occur.
If there have been allegations of abuse, neglect, substance abuse or any other conduct that could affect the health, safety, or welfare of a child, a court may order supervised visitation. Visitation is usually supervised by a relative named in the court's order. If there is no one suitable to supervised visitation, it may occur at a visitation center and be supervised by a social worker or other professional.
A court may order a parent who has been ordered to attend supervise visitation to meet conditions before the parent can have unsupervised visitation with a child. This may include passing drug tests or taking parenting or anger management classes. A parent may be ordered to attend counseling with or without a child. If counseling has been ordered, the counselor may later be called as a witness in court and asked for his or her professional opinion about whether or not unsupervised visitation would be appropriate or not.
If there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the last court order regarding visitation, a court may revisit its previous orders and order modifications. Following are some examples of changed circumstances that may prompt a court to modify its previous orders:
- A parent has relocated
- One or both parents has gotten remarried
- A parent has been arrested
- Substance abuse by a parent
- Physical or verbal abuse of a child, or any actions by a parent what could endanger a child's physical or mental health
- A custodial parent is withholding visitation or failing to follow the court-ordered schedule
In emergency situations where the health safety of a child is under an immediate threat, a parent may petition a court for an ex parte emergency order to modify visitation or custody. An ex parte order is one requested by a party in a case without the other side present. If a request for an ex parte order is granted, the court will set a hearing so that each side can present evidence about the situation and the court can choose whether or not to continue the modification of its previous orders.
Violating Visitation Schedules
Failing to follow a visitation schedule as ordered is taken very seriously by courts. In some cases, it can even warrant a change in child custody if a parent repeatedly interferes with the other parent's visitation and fails to follow the court's orders.
Parents are usually not prohibited from agreeing to allow more visitation than a previous court order allows and are encouraged to offer more visitation than the court has granted to the other parent. Violation of visitation schedules is considered a problem when one parent is trying to follow the court-ordered schedule and a custodial parent is failing to cooperate.
A parent who has been denied visitation may petition a court for contempt and a modification of custody. A court may order one or more remedies to facilitate a better parent-child relationship and discourage the parent who has been interfering with visitation from repeating similar conduct in the future:
- Fines, court costs, and attorney fees paid by the parent who has failed to follow the visitation schedule as ordered
- Extra visitation with the minor child for the parent who has missed visitation due to no fault of their own
- Counseling for the parent who has denied visitation, or counseling with the parent who has been denied visitation with the child, paid for by the other parent
- Modification of custody, especially when violations have occurred repeatedly
A motion for contempt for failing to adhere to the court's orders regarding visitation must be filed along with a filing fee to reopen a divorce or child custody case. The paperwork must be served along with a summons to the person who is withholding visitation.
Failing to attend visitation will not usually result in harsh penalties, unlike failure to pay child support. However, failing to attend regular visitation can be detrimental to the relationship a parent has with their child. If the parent ever petitions a court for more visitation, missed visitation may be seen by a court as evidence that the parent is not really interested in maintaining a close relationship with the child.
Problems with Self-Help
If you resort to self-help to enforce a visitation schedule, you could unintentionally break the law and make matters worse. If there is no visitation schedule in place, you risk being accused of a crime like kidnapping if you try to remove your child from the custody of the other parent without their consent or the court's permission. If you must later explain your actions in court, it will be your word against the other parent's.
If a parent is refusing to comply with a visitation schedule, you should obtain a copy of the most recent order entered in your case regarding visitation and notify police. If the police are unable to assist you, speak to an attorney.