Once you have a child visitation schedule in place, it’s easy to feel like the most difficult work is done. It can be both complicated and emotionally difficult to come to an agreement with your former partner that works for both of you and your child or to wait for a court to establish and approve a child visitation schedule for you. But once that’s done, the rest is easy, right? Just follow the schedule, and the rest will work itself out.
But it’s not always that easy. It may be more difficult than you originally thought to maintain your court-ordered child visitation schedule. This can be especially true if you and your ex could not come to an agreement yourselves and ended up taking the schedule that the court imposed instead, which may not have taken each parent’s unique schedule and needs in mind the way that you would have if you’d written it yourselves. But even if both parents agree on a schedule, both your needs and your child’s needs may change over time, making maintenance more difficult.
Another common problem is when one parent refuses to follow the set child visitation schedule. This could be a custodial parent who frequently fails to produce the child for visitation with the other parent, or a non-custodial parent who frequently cancels or reschedules set visitation appointments. Either situation makes maintaining visitation more difficult. Take a look at some tips that can help you maintain a consistent child visitation schedule.
Be Proactive When Navigating Your Child Visitation Schedule
Life is complicated and doesn’t always follow the schedule that you set for yourself. Assume that your and your partner’s scheduling needs will change over time and that as your child grows, their own social life and obligations are also going to interfere with scheduled visitation. Start setting ground rules with your ex now about how you’ll handle interruptions to the regular schedule when they arise.
For example, both of you could agree to give each other at least 24 hours’ notice when you need to change or cancel a scheduled visitation, except in the case of a true emergency. You could also agree that when a visit needs to be rescheduled or canceled, the parent who requested the change will be the one to communicate that change to the child (after speaking with the other parent) instead of leaving it on the other parent to explain the change to the child.
You could also come to an agreement about make-up dates – for example, if the custodial parent needs to cancel a scheduled visitation with the non-custodial parent, the agreement could be that they’ll provide a make-up date within two weeks. You may also want to discuss the circumstances under which it would be reasonable to renegotiate the child visitation schedule as a whole. Setting terms and ground rules early on helps keep everyone on the same page and gives you some structure to deal with changes and challenges that will almost certainly arise in the future.
Be Flexible Within Reason
In spite of anyone’s best-laid plans, things can change on a dime. It’s important to be reasonably flexible with your ex. After all, even though you’re no longer partners, you’re still a co-parenting team, and that means being willing to help each other when reasonable.
For example, if one parent’s car breaks down and the other parent has a working vehicle, the parent with the working vehicle might offer to handle all of the transportation until the non-working car is fixed, rather than demanding that the parent with the disabled vehicle find a way to do their share of the transportation. This is a reasonable accommodation as long as it doesn’t go on for too long.
Illnesses, deaths in the family, and work-related emergencies are all things that co-parents should try to accommodate each other for as long as it doesn’t place an unreasonable burden on them. It’s hard to predict when these types of things might happen, and both custodial and non-custodial parents can be affected by them. Try to be understanding, because you’ll want the same understanding when it’s your turn.
Know When to Draw the Line
Of course, while you want to be understanding and flexible, you don’t want to be taken advantage of, and some parents will take advantage. So you need to know when and where to draw the line. If your child’s other parent refuses to produce your children for their scheduled visitation, or if a non-custodial parent refuses to return your children at the scheduled time, you do have legal recourse if you have a legal custody and visitation order in place. The actions you can take depend on where you live.
In some states, the police may be called in to enforce child visitation orders. But if you’re considering calling the police, you need to know that in many areas they won’t get involved in a parental visitation dispute that doesn’t rise to the level of parental kidnapping or seem to place a child in danger. And even if the police in your area are willing to get involved, you should know that also introduces an element of danger that may not have existed before.
You can also file a petition in court for the court to enforce the visitation order. A court can mandate make-up days, increase or decrease visitation time, or even change the visitation order entirely. For example, a custodial parent who frequently refuses to produce the children for visitation could potentially lose custody.
A non-custodial parent who refuses to return children after visitation could lose visitation rights or be placed on supervised visitation. There is not necessarily much that can be done to force a non-custodial parent who frequently fails to show up for visitation to be a more active parent, but they could lose visitation privileges.
If you’re having difficulty getting visitation, or if you’re having trouble enforcing a visitation agreement already in place, a legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help. A legal resource group can help you explore your legal options and take the next steps without the expense of a family law attorney.