After a divorce or a breakup, many parents are very worried that they won’t be able to have a relationship with their child. If they are not awarded custody of the child, this fear becomes even more magnified. What you might not be aware of is that a non-custodial parent has rights, too.
Unless a judge has said otherwise, you do have the right to spend time with your child and to build and maintain a relationship with him or her. If you are a parent who doesn’t have custody after a split with your child’s other parent, here’s the information you need about your rights and responsibilities as a non-custodial parent.
Non-Custodial Parent Rights
Visitation Rights (Usually)
Outside of extenuating circumstances, a non-custodial parent has the right to some type of visitation with their child. During the process of determining custody, you as parents or a judge will develop a parenting plan that will outline when you can have time with your child. Depending on a wide range of circumstances and the needs of the child, this might mean that you’ll see your child several days per week, two weekends per month, or on some other schedule.
In some cases, supervised visitation will be awarded. This could happen because there is a history of domestic violence, because there is a mental health issue that has not been resolved, or for other reasons. In this case, you will spend time with your child at scheduled intervals with another adult nearby. This could be in the home of your parents or another relative, or it might be at a social worker’s office or some other facility.
If there is a question or determination of child abuse, severe and untreated mental illness, or some other circumstance that makes a judge believe that it would not be safe for your child to spend time with you or even have contact with you, you might not be entitled to visitation with your child.
In many cases, this is not a permanent decision. There might be things you can do, like going to anger management classes or going to a mental health or rehabilitation facility, that will allow you to gain back supervised or even unsupervised visitation. Talk to your legal resource group to find out if there is something you can do to be able to spend time with your child.
Child Records Access Rights
Even if you do not share custody of your child, as long as a judge has not forbidden you from doing so, you will be able to know what is going on with your child by accessing his or her school and medical or dental records. In a perfect situation, your child’s other parent will be sharing information with you about how your child is doing in school or whether there are medical concerns with your child. If that is not the case, however, you can request your records yourself.
Even if you don’t have physical custody of your child, you might have legal custody. This means that you would be entitled to help make decisions about where your child goes to school, which religion he or she is brought up with, and so on. If this is the case, talk to your child’s other parent to make these decisions. If you do not have legal custody of your child, you will not be able to make these decisions, but you can certainly share your thoughts about how your child should be raised with your ex.
Reporting Concerns Rights
As your child’s parent, if you have concerns about your child’s health and well-being while in the care of someone else (including his or her custodial parent), you can file a report with the appropriate authorities. For example, if you suspect abuse or neglect, then you should make a report with the child protection agency in your area. It is important to remember that even if you have not been awarded custody of your child, you are still a vital part of their life and should consider yourself an advocate for your child.
Child Custody Modification Rights
You can approach the court to modify the custody agreement if conditions have changed. In general, courts will not make changes to custody decrees unless there is a compelling reason. A compelling reason might be that your child’s other parent is no longer able to care for the child adequately, for example. You also might want to ask for a visitation modification if you or your child’s other parent plan to move out of the area.
If you have been awarded supervised visitation and you have completed the requirements necessary to achieve unsupervised visitation, this is also a reason to ask for a modification. If you are paying child support and your financial situation has changed, you can also ask for a child support modification. Keep track of your income and expenses so you are prepared to prove your need for a change in the agreement. Also, remember that the amount you pay in child support does not affect the amount of time you can spend with your child.
Maintaining a close relationship with your child when you don’t have custody can be challenging in some circumstances, but a non-custodial parent finds the effort worth it. Adhere to your visitation schedule and work on being the kind of parent that your child will want to go to with concerns and questions. Plan to spend your visitation time interacting with them and enjoying not only quality time but also the quantity of time you are given.
Even if your visitation is supervised, you can cultivate a great relationship with your child over time. The most important thing is to show up and be there each week, month, or whatever frequency you are able to see your child. If you are struggling with understanding your rights as a non-custodial parent, contact National Family Solutions for help.