What Is Reasonable Visitation?

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Dear Esq.,

What is considered reasonable visitation? I would love to get my children as much as I can. Can you offer any advice? Thanks!

Ken

Dear Ken,


 

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Perhaps no divorce or custody decree language has caused more trouble for fathers, mothers, and children, but most especially fathers, than the “reasonable visitation” language.

This is because there is no definition of “reasonable visitation”, and so it is impossible to enforce. What you may think is reasonable, and what your attorney may think is reasonable, is unlikely to match what your ex-spouse thinks is reasonable.

Unfortunately, this is the very language which is in an enormous percentage of custody orders, if not the majority. This is in part because many were made during a different era, when things like parental abduction (and, indeed, divorce) were less common, and in part because often mediators and judges cannot get couples to agree on a set visitation (or “timeshare”) schedule, and so they just put “reasonable visitation” in there to get the couple out the door.

The problem comes when there is a violation of the timeshare. Usually when dad shows up at the door to pick up the kids, and the kids are not there. If you have a very specific order, like “the second and fourth weekends of the month, from 6:00 p.m. on Friday until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday”, you can have this order enforced. You can go to the Court and demonstrate that it was the second weekend of the month, and you went to pick up the kids at 6:00 p.m., and they were not there. You can even, if the circumstances warrant, call the police to have them help you enforce the order, as you can show them that your ex is in violation of the order (“Look, officer, it’s the second weekend of the month, it’s Friday, it’s after 6:00 p.m., and they are nowhere to be found”). This is, by the way, a form of parental kidnapping, technically speaking. Of course, it goes the other way too – if you wilfully fail to return the children at the end of your time, you too are guilty of a form of parental kidnapping.

But an order for “reasonable visitation” removes all of these protections. When you go to the Court, or call the police, and say “they weren’t there”, they will say “and where is the authority which says that they had to be there?” When you point to your “reasonable visitation”, they will shrug their shoulders and say “so what does that mean?” The fact that you may have an agreement with your ex that it means Friday at 6:00 p.m., and that you have followed this agreement with no variation for the past ten years, means nothing. You will have no leg to stand on, and no case.

Also, the more specifically things are spelled out, the less room and reason there is for disagreements and arguments between the parents – they have clear guidelines and expectations as to how the time will be shared. And with divorced or divorcing parenets, it is always better to leave as little as possible open to interpretation and subject to the whims of one, the other, or both parties.

It is for all these reasons that one should always make sure that orders dealing with custody and parenting time are as specific as possible – they can always be amended if need be at a later date, as circumstances (such as jobs, location, etc.) change.

By now you should see that the term “reasonable visitation” is a non-term – it is open to interpretation, has no legal teeth, and is essentially meaningless.

That said, in most states the “standard” or default timeshare for a non-custodial parent is every other weekend, and two weeks during the summer. Therefore, most people in the field would, unfortunately, consider that reasonable, and any variation providing for more time than that to be generous indeed.

DEsq.

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