For many parents, being separated from their child is painful. And children feel that as well. Research suggests that children do better when they have contact with both of their parents on a regular and consistent basis. Divorce can really throw a wrench in the works, effectively separating children from at least one of their parents. The purpose of custody and visitation laws is to do what’s in the best interests of the child, which usually means facilitating a relationship between the child and each parent. So if you currently don’t have a visitation agreement, getting one in place might be the best thing you can do for both your child and yourself. Take a look at what you need to do in order to get visitation rights to your child.
Reach Out to the Custodial Parent
The fastest route to getting visitation rights is often through the parent who has custody of your child. If they agree that you should have visitation and the two of you can agree on when and how that visitation should happen, arrangements can often be made with little involvement from the family court. That means that, if you can, your best bet is to reach out to the other parent of your child.
Of course, there are situations where you should not contact your child’s other parent yourself. If there’s a restraining order in place, for example, you definitely shouldn’t violate it – you can make your request for visitation through formal legal channels instead. If you don’t have a current address or contact information for the other parent, you may not be able to reach out to them personally. And if you try to make contact but find that it’s impossible to have a reasonable conversation without it devolving into arguing or you just can’t come to an agreement, you’ll have to try another way. But if you can contact the other parent and have a productive conversation about visitation, that might be your best bet.
File a Petition with Family Court
The next step, if you can’t get anywhere by approaching your child’s other parent directly, is to file a petition with the family court. If you’re divorced, or if there’s an existing custody order already in place, your petition will most likely need to be filed under the same case number as the original custody or divorce case. If you were never married to your child’s other parent, and if there’s no previous custody order to refer to, then you’ll be starting a new case.
The procedures and exact documents that you’ll need vary from state to state, but usually you can get the forms you need from the clerk of court. You don’t have to hire a family law attorney to file for visitation, but you may want to at least consult a legal resource group like National Family Solutions to ensure that you have the right forms and you fill them out correctly.
A legal resource group can also help you figure out how to serve the petition on the other parent. You may be able to serve the papers using certified mail, or you may need to use a process server or have a law enforcement officer serve the papers.
Follow The Court’s Instructions
After the petition has been filed with the family court and served on the other parent, your child’s other parent will be given some time to respond to the petition. After that, depending on your state, you may be ordered to attend mediation. In some states, judges require custody and visitation cases to go to visitation first to see if an agreement can be worked out between the parents. The mediator is a neutral third party who will oversee your negotiations with the other parent.
If mediation fails, or if mediation is not required in your case, the next step is a hearing. At the hearing, you and your child’s other parent will present your cases. If you’ve been denied custody or visitation in the past, you’ll probably need to show evidence of how things have changed for you since that ruling. For example, if you were denied visitation because you didn’t have a living space that was safe for your child to visit, showing that you now have a safe, stable living situation can sway the court in your favor.
The judge will make a ruling on your visitation request based on the evidence presented at the hearing, so it’s important to arrive at the hearing well-prepared, with evidence that shows why you should have the visitation arrangement that you requested.
Fulfill Any Family Court Requirements
Depending on the facts of the case, the judge may simply award visitation, or they may make visitation contingent on you meeting certain requirements. For example, a family court judge could order you to attend parenting classes or participate in family therapy. Failing to follow the judge’s order could result in your visitation privileges being revoked, so it’s important for you to do what the judge orders you to do.
It’s also important for you to follow the visitation schedule that’s ordered. Don’t show up on days when you’re not scheduled to have visitation and try not to cancel on your child during times when you are scheduled to have visitation. If you want to petition the court for joint custody or more visitation time in the future, or if your ex tries to petition to have your visitation time reduced or revoked, the court will consider how you complied with the previously-ordered visitation schedule. If you frequently failed to show up on your visitation days or frequently interrupted the other parent’s parenting time with their child, that behavior will reflect badly on you and may hurt your case. It’s always better to stick to the court’s orders.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you with your petition for visitation rights. They can help you fill out, file, and store your documents and prepare to present your case in court. This kind of legal assistance can help you avoid mistakes and achieve a successful outcome in family court.