Child Visitation 101: Divorce and Splitting Time With Your Kids

Many people entering into a divorce don't know what to expect with respect to their children. A common child means that you and your ex-spouse will be connected for a very long time.

Child visitation, often pursuant to a parenting plan, can take a variety of forms or schedules. Reasonable visitation is flexible in that it leaves it up to the parents to specify dates and times for visitation. More stringent is scheduled visitation, which provides a fixed visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent.

Both custodial and non-custodial parents can benefit from understanding the basic provisions of a visitation agreement. In a typical fixed visitation schedule, the parents usually determine an arrangement wherein the non-custodial parent takes the children on weekends. There may also be a stipulation for mid-week visits.

Time Off and Holidays

Because children's schedules do not always follow a typical business week, fixed visitation schedules must also describe how children will spend periods of school recess, but also the holidays. Birthdays and holidays such as New Year's Eve, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. A common arrangement is to split time off from school 50/50, and trade holidays each year. Of course, Mother's Day and Father's Day are usually spent with the respective parent being honored.

The visitation agreement typically allows for frequent telephone contact by the non-custodial parent. A good agreement usually allows flexibility to trade-off a few days here and there without modifying the court order. Of course, a care plan for the children must also include a provision for emergencies.

Parents are to make time with each child a priority and implement the visitation plan as painlessly as possible. Every situation is different. In most cases, visitation improves a child's sense of family. In other cases, visitation creates strife. The most critical factor is the attitude of the parents. When adults behave as adults, they create a situation where children can be children.

The Best Interest of the Child

Children are the real victims of conflict between their parents. Like everyone involved, they experience pain, grief, anger, and fear. Adults are better equipped to check such emotions and work side-by-side. If you are going through a proceeding with child support and visitation orders, and can truly put your child's best interests ahead of your own, chances are that you will come up with a parenting plan that allows both parents some quality family time.

Plan your child visitation schedule according to age in order to allow different arrangements as the child develops. Determine the the practical logistics of scheduling time that meets each particular need. Develop a list of the child's day-to-day care, activities, and schoolwork. Consider your child's age, personality, experiences, and ability. Every child is different. Adjust the plan to the child, not the other way around.

Keep the child visitation schedule flexible, workable, and feasible. As your children get older and their lives change, your plan may need to be revised. If they are of a certain age, children's preferences may be heard by the judge.

Expect to win and lose. You will not get to have the child every birthday or major holiday. Be willing to make concessions and compromises. Learn to communicate with your co-parent. Cooperation today opens the door for cooperation down the road, when it could count the most.

Put It on Paper

Write down the agreement and hire an attorney to review the draft in order to ensure that nothing important has been overlooked. Nothing is worse than having a co-parent use against you something that you disregarded as a minor issue.

Have the child visitation agreement signed by the judge to ensure that it is upheld. Most judges will approve whatever visitation agreement the co-parents reach, provided it is in the best interests of the child.

Settle the issue of visitation between yourselves. If you are close to resolution, spending resources on expensive and time-consuming court litigation simply makes no sense. There is no guarantee that you will come out with the custody arrangement you want. What is fair and in the best interests of the child will govern the court's decision.