Visitation Rights for Parents: Frequently Asked Questions
by: Acadiana Legal Services Corporation
Q. What is "visitation" and how is it different from "custody?"
A. Visitation is the time that a parent spends with a child.
Custody is the right to make decisions about a child's life, like where she or he goes to school or what doctor he or she sees.
A parent can have custody of a child even if the child lives somewhere else (visiting with the other parent or with a babysitter).
A person can have visitation rights with a child, even if that person does not have custody rights.
Q. What rights does a father have to visitation?
A. Both mothers and fathers have the same rights to custody and visitation. If the parents no longer live together and go to court to get a written custody order, the court will try to make sure that each parent is able to spend enough time with the child so they can have a loving relationship.
In most situations, a court will grant "joint custody" to the parents so they have to talk with each other about the child and continue to be parents together though they may no longer be married or living together.
As for visitation, courts have often ordered a child to spend most of their time with one parent based on several factors. There is no preference for the mother or the father. This was done to create stability in the child's life. The other parent would have the right to see the child on certain days, like the weekends. If a parent has a busy or changing schedule, the courts may say that this parent has the right of "reasonable and liberal visitation" with the children. The parents have to talk to each other and decide when the children will go to see the parent.
More recently, however, "shared custody" has become more popular. Shared custody is joint custody and the children spend approximately half the time with each parent. The child may live one week with the mother and one week with the father, for example. This may work when the parents live close together and the children can go to the same school and see their friends. If the parents live in different towns or states, however, shared custody would probably be a bad idea for the children.
Q. Can a parent's right to visitation be restricted?
A. Yes, a court may restrict a parent's right to custody and visitation if a parent abuses a child or the other parent, or has a drug, alcohol, or some other problem that prevents proper care for children. Even in this situation, the troubled parent may still have visitation rights, under supervision, which means that a third person needs to be there when the parent visits with the child. The troubled parent may also have to complete counseling or drug testing before he can visit with the children.
Q. What should I do if I think the other parent has abused the child during visitation?
A. First, take the child to a doctor or emergency room to care for any injuries and document the abuse. Then, call the local office of the Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) (look in the phone book for local numbers) to report the abuse. DCFS should investigate the report and refer the case to the police or courts if they find that serious abuse happened.
If there is no court order about custody, you should file papers with the court to ask that visitation be restricted. If there is already a court order in place that gives the abusive parent visitation rights, you should file papers with the court to change the original order. Remember, if you refused to allow court-ordered visitation without going back to get the order changed, you may be punished for contempt of court.
In these situations, a court will usually issue a temporary restraining order limiting visitation for the allegedly abusive parent. The court will then quickly schedule a hearing so both sides can be heard and present evidence.
Q. There is no court order about visitation already. Can I restrict visitation for the other parent without a court order?
A. If you stop letting the other parent see a child, there is not much that the other parent can do except go to court and ask for custody and visitation rights. If there is no court order about your child, the police don't like to get involved in family disputes unless there has been physical abuse.
Unfortunately, many people denied visitation try to solve the problem by taking a child from school or a babysitter. This can be very stressful for a child and usually only leads to more problems with the other parent.
However, if you refuse the other parent visitation this can be viewed as failing to foster a relationship with the other parent and can be held against you. If a parent fears that the other parent will harm or take the child during visitation, they can restrict the parent to supervised visitation.
Q. Why should I get a court order for custody or visitation?
A. It is almost always the best thing. A court order outlines each parent's custody rights and visitation times. There will be less problem
s since each parent knows exactly when he or she will be seeing a child.
The police and the courts will also help to enforce the court order if one parent does not follow it. A person who disobeys a court order can be punished by having to pay a fine or by going to jail.
Q. Does a person have to pay child support to have visitation with a child?
A. No. Visitation with children and the payment of child support are two different things. No one has to "buy" time with their children by paying child support. A person can visit with a child even if they are behind in their child support payments. A court will punish nonpayment of child support by fines, jail time, and suspension of professional licenses.
Q. Do other people besides the parents have a right to visitation?
A. Generally, the parents have the right to decide what people should be around their children. Grandparents, however, (and sometimes other relatives) have a right to ask the courts for visitation in limited circumstances. In these cases, a court will want to know if visitation would be good for the child, or whether the parents have good reasons for not wanting the children to see the grandparent or other relative.
(There is more information about non-parent visitation rights on this website, in other articles.)