There are a lot of reasons why parents don’t end up with custody of their children, and not having custody doesn’t mean that your child doesn’t need you in their life at all. It’s well-known that children generally have the best outcomes when they have both parents actively involved in their lives.
You don’t necessarily need to have custody to be a presence in your child’s life. You may be able to get visitation rights awarded to you in court. Visitation gives you the right to visit and spend time with your child. And if getting visitation rights sounds difficult, don’t worry.
In many cases, a non-custodial parent can get visitation rights even without having a lawyer involved. Take a look at some tips.
Talk to Your Child’s Other Parent
It sounds too simple to be a solution. But the best place to start if you want visitation is with your child’s custodial parent. Things will go a lot more smoothly if you can get them on board.
There’s more than one type of visitation. Many parents make informal visitation arrangements without any court involvement at all. It’s better to get a formal, court-ordered visitation order. This protects your rights if the other parent changes their mind at any point.
But an informal visitation arrangement can be a good temporary measure until you can go to court. Then you’ll be able to point out in court that you’re already present in your child’s life and should continue to be so. If you and your ex can come to an informal agreement now, it will prove to the court later that you’ve been making an effort to parent your child.
Furthermore, if your child’s other parent agrees to the visitation, court proceedings might not be much more than a simple formality. Except in scenarios that pose a danger to the child, a visitation plan that both parents agree to is likely to be quickly approved by a family court judge with a minimum of hassle or legal expense.
So start with your child’s custodial parent. Approach them in good faith, respect the job they’re doing as your child’s primary parent, and ask for an open discussion about what kind of visitation you want, what would be appropriate for your child, and how to get started. They may not give you exactly what you want. But if they’re at least open to talking about it, that’s a good place to start.
You and your child’s other parent generally agree that you should have some type of visitation. But then disagree on the particulars, mediation might be a good way to come to an agreement. Mediation is a process that involves having a neutral third party facilitate negotiations to resolve a legal dispute.
Courts sometimes order parents to try to resolve custody and visitation disputes through mediation before going to court for a resolution. In other cases, parents opt for mediation on their own. If the family courts in your area don’t require mediation, then your child’s other parent doesn’t have to agree to it, but you can ask.
You don’t need to be represented by a lawyer to participate in mediation. During mediation, you’ll be asked to present your side of the story and outline the main issues that you want to have addressed. The other party will do the same. Then discussions will begin. The mediator present is to help keep the discussion on track. As well as to help you reach an agreement that works for both of you.
Represent Yourself in Family Court
If you haven’t had any luck getting your child’s other parent to agree to a visitation arrangement, and mediation is unsuccessful or not on the table, your next step is to ask the family court to award visitation. This is where many parents get discouraged. They believe that they can’t win visitation rights without hiring an expensive lawyer.
But the truth is that in many cases, parents can successfully represent themselves in family court. In custody and visitation cases, the courts follow the best interests of the child standard. Finding a solution that’s in the best interests of the child involved is an important principle, but it’s not a complicated one.
You’ll start by filing a petition for visitation with the local family court. If there’s a previous divorce or custody case, you will need to reference that case’s docket number. If there are no previous court proceedings, you may need to first prove that you are the parent of the child in question. Usually by providing a birth certificate or submitting to a paternity test.
Your Time in Court
You’ll have the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence at the hearing. Witnesses could include family, friends, or others who have seen your interactions with your child.
Evidence could include letters, phone and text records, or other forms of proof that you’ve tried to build or maintain a relationship with your child as well as negotiating visitation with your child’s custodial parent. You might also want to include any evidence that you’ve contributed financially to your child.
You’ll also be given the opportunity to testify yourself. It’s so you can explain to the court why you currently don’t have visitation. And, what you’ve tried to do to maintain a presence in your child’s life. Also, how you see yourself contributing to your child’s life through further contact.
Even if you don’t have a lawyer, you don’t have to do everything yourself. One good source of help is a legal resource group such as National Family Solutions. A legal resource group can’t represent you in court. But they can give you the tools you need to represent yourself. They can help you with document preparation and storage.
In addition, help you prepare your testimony, and refer you to experts who may be able to help with your case. With the help of a legal resource group, you can be confident and prepared when presenting your case in family court, increasing your chances of success.