Parenting Time and Visitation - The Basics

Produced by Attorney Jeff Wolf for MassLegalHelp.org
Last Updated December 2017

What is it?

Which courts decide?

How do judges decide?

Parenting time schedules

"Reasonable" parenting time

Transportation

Supervised visitation

When one parent has abused the other

If there has been abuse

Restraining orders

No parenting time or visitation

Are parenting time, visitation, and child support connected?

What is “parenting time?”

The Probate and Family Court always used to call the time children spend with a parent they do not live with "visitation." In July 2015, the Court changed the words they use on their forms to "parenting time." The Court says that “parenting time” is the time that children spend with the parent they do not live with. The Court still uses the word “visitation” for supervised visitation and grandparent visitation.

Which courts make parenting time and visitation decisions?

Probate & Family Courts order parenting time and visitation.

Parenting time and visitation decisions can be part of a larger case, like divorce cases, or the case can just be about parenting time or visitation.

Probate & Family Courts handle "family law" cases, like divorces, deciding paternity for children whose parents are not married to each other, child support cases, and legal separations.

Probate & Family Courts also handle 209A restraining order cases, and they can make visitation orders in these cases, but only if the plaintiff asks for one.

Note

District Courts and the Boston Municipal Court also handle 209A cases, but they cannot make a visitation order in a 209A restraining order case.

How do judges make parenting time and visitation decisions?

Judges make these decisions based on “the best interests of the child." The “best interests of the child” requires courts to focus on your child's needs. See the Probate and Family Court website for more information about the "best interests" of the child.

Parenting time schedules

Often you and the court decide on a parenting time schedule. An example of a parenting time schedule is:

  • every other weekend from Friday at 6:00 P.M. through Sunday at 3:00 P.M. and
  • on alternating weekends on Saturday from 9:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. and
  • once a week after school on Wednesdays from 3:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M.

This is just an example of a parenting time schedule. Your schedule should be based on the needs of your child and the daily schedule of each parent.

"Reasonable" parenting time

If parents can communicate easily, sometimes you will not need a parenting time schedule. Instead your parenting time can be flexible and you can arrange visits between yourselves. This is called "reasonable parenting time."

If communication between you and the other parent is not good, it is almost always best to have a detailed parenting time schedule so you do not have to be in constant contact to try and agree about the schedule.

Transportation for parenting time or visitation

The law does not say which parent must provide transportation for parenting time or visitation.   So, you need to come up with an agreement about transportation.

If you cannot agree, the Court can make an order that says who is responsible for transportation in your case.

Supervised visitation

Sometimes, it may not be safe to leave your child alone with a parent during visitation. In these situations, the court can order supervised visitation.

Supervised visitation means another person stays with the visiting parent during visits. It is the supervisor’s job to make sure that your child is safe and feels safe.

The supervisor also makes sure that the visiting parent acts appropriately. The court prefers to order a supervisor that both parents can agree on. The court also thinks it is important for your child to be comfortable with the supervisor.

Generally, the supervisor can stop the visit if he or she believes your child is not safe during the visit.

Supervised visitation centers and other agencies provide supervised visitation in Massachusetts.

Supervised visitation is important if the visiting parent is abusive, has an alcohol, drug abuse, or other problem that could put your child in danger.

Parenting time and visitation when one parent has abused the other

If there has been violence between you, often it is not safe to have contact with each other during parenting time or visitation. Sometimes abusive parents use parenting time or visitation to continue to have contact with and control the other parent.

Your child may be at risk during visits with a parent who has been abusive to you. In those situations, think about supervised visits.

You can make visitation safer for yourself and your child by thinking about:

A clear schedule

A clear schedule makes a parent-child relationship possible so you do not have to be in constant contact with each other.

A good way to avoid contact with an abusive parent during parenting time or visitation is to have someone else pick up and drop off your child for parenting time or visits. That person should be someone that both of you trust and agree on.  

Or, if visits are supervised, one parent can drop off the child and leave before the other parent arrives.

Another person to help you communicate about parenting time or visits

Even with a schedule, there will be times you must communicate with each other. It is often best not to have to communicate directly. You can choose someone you both trust to contact the other parent if either of you needs to change plans. This arrangement allows you to deal with changes and not have to be in direct contact with the other parent.

Supervised visitation

Often, it is important for the safety of both you and your child that visitation is supervised. The abusive parent may have abused your child in the past. Or, you may be worried about the future.

Abuse frightens children. They feel unsafe being with their abusive parent if someone else is not there.

If your child's other parent does not agree to these arrangements, and you believe they are necessary for you or your child's safety, ask the court to order them.

If the court decides there has been abuse

If the court has decided that one of the parents is an abusive parent, the court must provide for the safety and well-being of your child and the safety of the abused parent in visitation orders.

The court may order:

  • drop off and pick up of your child in a safe place or in the presence of an appropriate person;
  • visitation supervised by an appropriate person, visitation center, or agency;
  • the abusive parent to attend and complete a certified batterer's treatment program to have visitation;
  • the abusive parent not to possess or use alcohol or controlled substances during visitation or 24 hours before;
  • the abusive parent to pay for supervised visitation;
  • no overnight visitation;
  • the abusive parent to get bond for the return and safety of your child;
  • investigation or appointment of a guardian ad litem or attorney for your child;
  • anything else necessary for your safety and the safety and well-being of your child.

Can my child visit with the other parent if I get a restraining order?

A restraining order can meet your safety needs and still allow for visits with your children.

For example, if you want your children to visit with the other parent or have contact with the other parent, you can ask the judge to order that the "no contact" part of the restraining order apply to you but not to your children.

Talk to a lawyer or a domestic violence advocate about getting a restraining order that can keep you safe and still allow your children to have visits or contact with their other parent.

If a restraining order allows the abusive parent to have contact with your children, this is not the same thing as giving the abusive parent visitation rights.

Courts are not supposed to give visitation rights to a defendant in a restraining order case.

No parenting time or visitation

In rare situations, it may be in your child's best interest not to have any contact with one parent. An example is when a parent has abused your child and even in a supervised visit your child would be traumatized by seeing that parent. Orders denying one parent any parenting time or visitation are rare. But a court can order it to protect your child from more harm.

Talk to a lawyer if you need the court to order no parenting time or visitation.

Parenting time, visitation, and child support - What is the connection?

Parents

  • Who do not pay child support can still have parenting time or visitation.
  • Who do not have parenting time or visitation can still be ordered to pay child support.

If a parent

  • pays child support, they do not automatically have parenting time or visitation.
  • has parenting time or visitation, they do not automatically have to pay child support.

If a parent does not

  • pay child support, they can still have parenting time or visitation.
  • have parenting time or visitation, the court can still order them to pay child support.

The amount of parenting time a parent has can affect the amount of child support. See How does Parenting Time affect child support?

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