Whether you are getting a divorce or are not married to the other parent of your child, you probably want to have child visitation rights so you can develop a bond with your son or daughter. If your child’s other parent is not cooperating, however, this can look like a very overwhelming process. In most cases, both parents do have child visitation rights with their child, so the law is likely on your side. Here are some of the things you might need to do to get visitation with your son or daughter.
Establish Paternity If Necessary
If you are or were not married to your child’s mother, you might need to establish that you are, in fact, the father. Many times, this is done by the mother simply certifying that you are the dad. She can put your name on the birth certificate or, if that wasn’t done, she can prepare a paternity statement. If she refuses, however, or if there is any doubt, you might have to have DNA testing to show that you are indeed the father. This is a simple test that involves either a cheek swab or a blood draw. Both types of testing are very accurate.
If you are or were married to the child’s mother, then in most cases, you are assumed to be the father of the child. Talk to your legal resource center if you are or were married and the mother is claiming that you are not the father of the child. This is one of the most important steps for a case involving child visitation rights.
Develop a Parenting Plan
If you and your ex are amicable, you might be able to develop your own parenting plan. The parenting plan spells out who has custody, who makes decisions for the child, and when visitation with the non-custodial parent takes place. If the parents are sharing custody, the parenting plan is still important, because it states which parent has the child on specific nights, holidays, and vacations. If the two of you can come to an agreement on your own, the parenting plan is submitted to the court and you can get your child visitation rights.
If you can’t agree, then a mediator might be able to help you develop a plan that is fair to both of you as well as in the best interest of the child. A mediator will understand child development and can make some suggestions that will meet his or her needs. This mediation can also spell out the child visitation rights, how transfers are to take place, and who is responsible for transporting the child to and from the other parent’s home.
Petition the Court
In some cases, particularly if mediation has failed to produce a satisfactory parenting plan, going to court might be necessary to secure child visitation rights. First, you’ll need to look into what type of visitation or custody agreement would apply to your case. Then you can go to the clerk of the court in your state to obtain the proper template for your court petition regarding child visitation rights. A legal professional at a legal resource center can help you fill out the forms. You’ll need to enter information about yourself, your child’s other parent, and what type of child visitation rights agreement you would like.
Once you file the paperwork, you’ll need to have it served to your ex. There are several ways to do this and they differ by state. Again, your legal resource center can help you with the options. You’ll receive a hearing date and, if necessary, follow-up hearings will also take place. There are several steps to follow once the court is involved, so watch your mailbox for specific documents and guidance.
Hire a Guardian Ad Litem
In some cases, a judge will require you and your child’s other parent to be evaluated by an outside expert. This person is called a guardian ad litem, or GAL. He or she will talk to both parents, as well as daycare providers, friends, and others to find out what is in the best interest of the child in terms of custody and visitation. Usually, the court will choose the guardian ad litem and both parents will split the cost. If one of you cannot afford your share, the judge will decide who will pay the fees.
You will have some obligations when it comes to working well with your appointed guardian ad litem. Keep in mind that being accessible and cooperative will increase your chances of having a favorable result. It’s also important that you are honest; since the GAL will be speaking to others, there’s a very good chance that any misrepresentations will be found out, and this will look bad for your case. Finally, keep in mind that even if the process seems redundant or frustrating, it’s being done to represent the best interest of your child. Be patient and let the process work.
Follow Your Child Visitation Rights Agreement
Once a parenting agreement has been put into place, it’s important that you follow it to the letter if at all possible. If you violate the terms of visitation, you could be held in contempt of court. This means that your ex could take you back to court to tell the judge that you’re not upholding your end of the bargain. Show up on time for visitation and return your child at the correct time. Do not try to alienate your child from his or her other parent; badmouthing your ex not only will make your child feel bad but also could result in you having your visitation revoked or limited.
If your ex is the one who is violating the terms of the parenting plan, talk to your legal resource center to find out what you can do and how you can represent yourself in court if that becomes necessary.
The process of getting visitation with your child might seem overwhelming, but it’s worth all of the aggravation and inconvenience. Children do best when they are able to have a relationship with both parents, so consider it an act of love. Talk to a staff member at National Family Solutions; a legal resource group can help you learn how to use the resources available to you so you can have a relationship with your child even after a divorce or separation, or learn more about our child visitation rights services.