“Visitation” is the time “noncustodial” parents spend with their children. A “noncustodial” parent is a parent who does not have physical custody of the child. Visitation often goes by a schedule that is included in a court order. Depending on what’s best for the child, a visitation schedule can be for a few hours a week, a day each week, overnights, weekends or several weeks at a time. Sometimes the court order will say something like “reasonable rights of visitation with twenty-four hours notice.” This means that the parents must work out visitation as they go along, and that the noncustodial parent must give the parent with custody at least a day’s notice before picking up the child. “Reasonable visitation” can work if the parents can talk to each other. If the parents can’t talk to each other, it usually works out better if there is a schedule so everyone can plan ahead.
Sometimes the court decides it is not safe for a child to spend time alone with the noncustodial parent. If the court decides it is not safe for a child to spend time alone with the noncustodial parent, the judge may order supervised visitation.
What are “visitation rights”?
Visitation rights are what a court order says about when and where the noncustodial parent can visit with your child. A court order about visitation rights is often called a “visitation order.” The law says that visitation rights must be “in the child’s best interests.”
Can the non-custodial parent get visitation rights even if we were never married?
If you are the mother and you were never married to the father of your child, he can still get visitation rights. But he will first have to show the court that he is the child’s father.
Do I have to let the other parent visit even if he does not pay child support?
Legally, visitation and child support do not have anything to do with each other. Parents do not have to pay child support in order to visit with their children. At the same time, paying child support does not automatically mean that the noncustodial parent gets visitation rights.
A court will decide visitation rights by looking at what is best for your child. The court will let the other parent visit if it is in your child's best interests to see the other parent. The court will order the other parent not to visit your child if it is clearly bad for your child.
What if I don't want the other parent to visit my child?
Sometimes a judge will order that a parent cannot see his child at all. A judge only orders “no visitation” in very rare cases where the danger to the child is extreme.
It is more likely that a judge will say the other parent can visit. But if there is some danger to you or your child, the judge can put special rules for the visits in the visitation order.
an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute