Visitation is the arrangement set out for contact between the child and the parent (or third party) who does not maintain the primary residence for the child. Visitation can be set out in a number of ways including:
- a flexible visitation schedule;
- reasonable visitation as determined by the custodial parent;
- a structured visitation schedule to include holidays, weekends and summer vacations; and
- supervised visitation.
If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent has the authority to make long range decisions regarding the health, education, and religious decisions for the child. The parent who does not have legal custody should not attempt to subvert those decisions. For example, if the parent with legal custody has decided to raise the child in the Jewish tradition, the parent with visitation rights should not take the child to be baptized in a Catholic church.
How do you determine a visitation schedule?
The courts encourage parents to work together to determine a visitation schedule that will be in the best interests of the child. Such factors as school and work schedules, family traditions, distance of the parents’ homes, other siblings and family members, health requirements, and other personal issues affect each visitation schedule uniquely. If parents are able to work together to set a schedule that will benefit the child’s needs and accommodate the parents’ schedules, the courts have mediation resources available to assist. Court certified mediators are available in every county to provide neutral assistance to allow the parents to meet the needs of their child.
Who can be awarded visitation?
A biological parent can be awarded visitation. Additionally, grandparents (even when the parents weren't married or are not currently divorced) and step-parents may be awarded visitation rights. It may be difficult for grandparents or other third parties to receive court-ordered visitation. It will depend on the facts of the case. While there are no reported cases of brothers or sisters being given visitation, a strong argument could be made that it would be in the best interest of the child.
When can visitation be denied?
If the child is in an unsafe situation, it is important that the problem is brought to the attention of the court and other appropriate agencies. The court has the power to deny visitation to a parent. Normally, the court will only stop visitation for a certain time or until a certain task is performed. If the parent with primary residency denies court ordered visitation, the parent who has been denied visitation should consider filing an action for contempt and/or modification of the existing order.
Are visitation rights contingent on the payment of child support and vice versa?
No. Court ordered visitation rights may not be denied to the non-custodial parent, even though the non-custodial parent is not paying child support. A parent who has been denied visitation does not have the right to stop paying court ordered child support. Not following court orders will place you in contempt and will only get you in trouble with the possibility of jail time.
When is supervised visitation or monitored exchanges appropriate?
Supervised visitation protects the safety of the child, and centers are available throughout Maryland. "Monitored Exchange" programs allow the child to be exchanged and move from one parent to the other without the parents having contact. Resources for supervised visitation centers vary throughout the state.
Many parents and children who are separating or divorcing in difficult circumstances need help from a neutral third party in arranging for visitation. Although emotions may be running high between the parents, it is in the child's best interests that they should consider that in most situations children want to continue relationships with both parents. If the child’s parent wants to maintain a relationship with the child, judges are unlikely to terminate the rights of the parent to visit. In particularly volatile situations, supervised visitation or monitored exchanges should be considered. Supervised visitation is visitation between a parent and child held at a neutral location. Supervised visitations are closely monitored by staff who may intervene when necessary to ensure appropriate parent/child interactions.
Monitored exchange occurs at a neutral center where the parents pre-arrange times at which the parents exchange the child. Staggered pick-up and drop-off times are usually arranged so that the parents do not have to be in contact with one another. The actual exchange is monitored by staff who generally try to ease the process for the child.
When might I consider using one of these services?
Supervised visitation may be useful in situations where the parent who does not have primary residence:
- is working on improving his/her parenting skills;
- may have a drug or alcohol abuse problem;
- has been abusive or has had trouble controlling anger; or
- may have been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with the child.
Monitored exchanges may be useful in any of the situations described above, particularly if the parent who does not have the primary residence completed treatment and is ready for unsupervised visits. Monitored exchanges may also be helpful when parents separate and find themselves arguing or when there is a history of domestic violence. If any violence was directed at the child, supervised visitation may be most appropriate.
How do I arrange for these services?
Most people find the services through referrals from the courts, Family Services, or Child Protective Services. Others negotiate visitation agreements that include one of these arrangements.