Visitation rights are the enforceable opportunity for a non-custodial parent to spend time with his or her child. There should be a visitation schedule that is either agreed to by the parents and then entered as an order or imposed by the court when the parents fail to agree. Determining visitation is a very stressful situation as it is negotiated at a time when the romantic relationship between the parents has come to a complicated and often adversarial end. Despite the emotional upheaval, once a schedule has been established, the non-custodial parent has the right to enforce the agreement and spend time with his or her children.
The parents of a child have flexibility in crafting a visitation schedule that is unique for their specific circumstances as long as the outcome is deemed to be in the best interest of the child. The purpose behind the visitation regulations in New Jersey is to make sure that the non-custodial parent has frequent and meaningful contact with his or her children.
Often, problems arise with visitation when one parent fails to adhere to the established schedule or interferes with the non-custodial parent’s ability to spend time with his or her child. If one parent regularly acts in a manner that modifies the visitation plan, then there are remedies, which include:
1. Attempt to be flexible in rearranging your schedule if the changes are not frequent or an intentional attempt to circumvent your right to see your child. Rescheduling missed time as soon as possible will help alleviate the situation. Defusing the emotions of the situation may lead to a better visitation schedule in the future.
2. Maintain a clear calendar with notes about missed visits or time with your child that was cut short through no fault of your own. Be sure to include information about how you attempted to reschedule the visitation. Especially make note of any disparaging comments made against you by the other parent. This is important if you need to pursue legal action.
3. Enlist the assistance of the police in enforcing your visitation rights. These are court orders that can be carried out with the assistance of law enforcement. However, local police officers may be reluctant to get involved, so it is important to evaluate your situation to decide if this is a good idea for you. You also should consider the impact that this will have on your child if you show up at his or her home with a police officer.
4. File a motion to enforce your visitation order with the court, seeking costs for the legal action that was necessitated by your child’s other parent and interference with your right to spend time with your child.
5. File to have custody transferred to you because your visitation rights were being violated. Although this is a remedy that courts in New Jersey have imposed in extreme cases, it is a last resort.
In developing the initial custody plan, you should be clear and direct to avoid future disputes. If there is no room for interpretation, the other parent cannot claim confusion led to a loss of time with your child. Details to spell out include:
- The specific days that your child will spend with you, including starting and ending times;
- Which of the holidays you will share with your child;
- When your child is not with you, create a plan for staying in touch, including telephone calls, e-mails, texts, and Skype;
- What your role will be in any school, sports, and other extra-curricular activities, including methods of notification that they are taking place;
- How you will receive copies of medical, school, and other records relating to your child; and
- How your child will travel to and from the visits.
By creating a clear visitation plan and approaching the arrangement with flexibility and understanding, it may be possible to avoid some of the more extreme remedies.