After a divorce, the children generally live with one parent or the other. The parent that the children lives with is called the custodial parent; the other is called the noncustodial parent. (Sometimes today the noncustodial parent is called the visiting parent.) In the interests of the children, the noncustodial parent is usually then granted the right to visitation with the children because courts believe children should have contact with both parents. The law calls this “reasonable” visitation.
“Reasonable” visitation generally means the parents of the child must come up with a schedule – a parenting plan, which is a schedule with days and times — for visitation. When the parents cooperate, this regime works better because it allows the parents to work around their respective schedules. In practice, however, the parent who has custodial rights generally has more power and influence over what is considered reasonable in terms of times and durations. The custodial parent has no legal duty to agree to any proposed visitation scheduled. However, an inflexible or malicious parent does not escape the notice of the judge who remembers his or her intransigence later on.
In most cases, the two former spouses will be able to work out a schedule together that they can both live with. Although the custodial parent has the power to decide what is or is not reasonable visitation, his or her decision making power is not absolute. For example, the custodial parent can refuse visitation in the middle of the night or while the other parent is intoxicated. However, the custodial parent cannot deny visitation just because he or she is upset with the noncustodial parent, or because the children do not want to visit with the other parent, or because the noncustodial parent is behind in support payments.
If a parent suspect that a loosely defined reasonable visitation regime won’t work, he or she should request on a fixed schedule and save time, and aggravation. If an existing reasonable visitation isn’t working out — for example, one parent is consistently late, skips scheduled visits, or doesn’t inform the other parent where he or she is planning on taking the children – a party can go back to court and ask that the arrangement be changed.
When parents cannot come to an agreement on their own, the judge makes one for them. A common schedule may look something like this:
> Visitation with the non-custodial parent every other weekend;
> Visitation on either Easter and New Years, or alternatively, Thanksgiving and Christmas;
> Five continuous weeks with the non-custodial parent during the summer;
> Unlimited written and electronic communication with the non-custodial parent.
In order for a reasonable visitation schedule to work, parents must be communicate with each other in civil, sane, rational manner.