Visitation – General Issues and Tips

Additional Parenting Time Requirements

Check your order to make sure it requires both parents to:

  • Return the child’s belongings with the child
  • Designate a competent adult to pick up and return the child in their place
  • Give notice any time they are unable to exercise a period of visitation
  • Immediately notify the school and the other parent when the child cannot be returned to school after weekend parenting time (usually due to illness).

Alcohol or Drug Use

If you’re concerned about the other parent’s alcohol or drug abuse, the parenting plan may provide for drug testing, or include other provisions limiting alcohol or drug use during parenting time. If testing is required, the parenting time order should state how often testing will occur, who will pay for it, and the consequences of a positive test.

Air Travel

Ideally, a child younger than 8 shouldn’t travel alone. If it’s necessary for a child to travel by air, direct flights between major cities are preferred over multiple stops or plane changes. Check to see if your order addresses specific requirements about notice and documents for air travel. Consult the airline for rules about unaccompanied minors. Remember that if a person younger than 18 is traveling alone or with only one parent or another adult, it is a good idea to carry a court order or certified consent letter that both parents permit the trip.

Blended (Step) Families

Today, at least one‐third of all children in the U.S. are expected to live in a stepfamily before they reach age 18. When two families unite, new personalities, habits, rules, and memories become part of the household. Most blended families are capable of working out their differences or conflicts and living together successfully. It takes patience, open discussion of feelings, positive attitudes, mutual respect, and thoughtful planning for the new family to succeed. Parents must be sensitive to the children’s needs (their children and those of the other parent) and understand that blended families are complex.

No matter how hard the parents try, there will be conflicts when two separate families unite under one roof. Children can be sad or fearful as these changes occur, and it takes time for them to adjust to the new family. Several common problems can occur within a blended family. One problem is discipline. The parents should agree and explain to the children if and how a stepparent is going to discipline stepchildren.

Some children want time alone with their biological parent and may become angry when the parent spends time with the new partner and his or her children. There are also children who resist developing a close bond with a stepparent because they fear this could anger their biological parent of the same gender.

Here are some tips for parents and stepparents to create positive relationships for each member of the blended family:

  • Spend some alone time with your own children so they don’t feel overshadowed by the new family members.
  • Discuss parenting problems with the other parent away from the children.
  • Avoid displays of favoritism regarding your children.
  • Let the children choose an appropriate name or title for the stepparent.
  • Plan regular family meetings to discuss all members’ needs.

Consent to medical treatment

Unless your rights are limited by the court order, you have the right to consent to routine medical and dental treatment any time the child is in your care. In most cases, you have the right to consent to surgical procedures in an emergency.

In non-emergency cases, consent depends on how your court order is worded, particularly in the case of surgical procedures. For serious non-emergency surgical procedures, either both parents must agree, or only one parent is authorized to make the decision.

Delays at exchange points

Communication is extremely important in long‐distance exchanges. Keep contact numbers current and notify the other parent when the child arrives. Be sure to inform each other of unforeseen delays as soon as possible. Discuss in advance what a reasonable waiting time means. Travel times may vary depending on transportation breakdowns or weather delays.

Differing spiritual beliefs and values.  Can the child attend different places of worship?

Unless your rights are limited by a court order, you may direct your child’s moral and religious training when the child is with you. Each parent can take the child to his or her place of worship.

Children naturally want to please both parents. Don’t put your child on the spot or force your child to choose one parent’s religion over the other. Let your child know about your spiritual convictions and that you respect the other parent’s right to make a different choice. Your child may be interested in exploring both religions and may feel confused if parents talk badly about each other’s choices. Keep your child’s best interests in mind, and be open to hearing your child’s views.

Drop-in visits

Sometimes a parent can be in town when the children are in the care of the other parent. When this happens, be flexible and set aside normal routines to allow contact on short notice. A lot of good will is earned by being flexible. One day you may be in a similar situation and will appreciate the other parent’s willingness to return the favor.

Electronic Communication (e-chat/virtual parenting)

The custodial or noncustodial parent has the right to ask the court for specific time periods to communicate electronically with the child. The OAG’s form if the request is granted, can be inserted into the order. This form currently specifies a reasonable time without specific time periods.

Electronic communication includes, but is not limited to, telephones, email, instant messaging, text messaging, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or using a webcam or programs such as Skype. There are many other forms of electronic communication not listed here.

Many parents communicate electronically with their child. It does not have to be in the order if the parents agree. If they do not agree, one parent can file a motion with the court to add electronic communication to the order.

Maintaining contact by phone, text messaging, e‐mail, web cam and other technology may be helpful in long‐distance parenting. Virtual parenting is not an ideal substitute for face-to-face contact and cannot be used to deprive the child of time with the other parent.

Haircuts, Piercings, and Tattoos

Parents have the responsibility to make decisions about their child’s general well-being, which includes haircuts, piercings, and hair tints. Parents also have the right to say no or to delay a decision until they check with the other parent. Talk with the other parent to set reasonable boundaries and curfews and social media rules for your child. Whenever both parents agree and back each other up, children feel more secure, regardless of how much they resist.

As a co-parent, how would you feel if the other parent allowed the child to get a tattoo without asking you? Parenting adolescents and teens requires serious discussions between parents. Teenagers especially will test their boundaries and may be secretly relieved when you say no. Consult with the other parent before allowing your child to make major decisions, just as you would want to be consulted. Doing what is best for your child means making sure she has a healthy relationship with you and the other parent.

High Conflict

Many parents manage their children with few problems, and some do not. Some parents argue with each other when they exchange the children or talk on the phone. They sometimes blame the other parent for the problems they’re having, and in extreme cases, some parents tell the children how bad the other parent is.

When parents do these things, children can develop emotional and behavioral problems. They may be afraid that they’re the cause of their parents’ fighting, and feel they have to choose one parent to reduce the fighting.

Parallel parenting is a way for parents who can’t cooperatively co‐parent, to raise their child with little contact between them. With parallel parenting, communication between the parents is limited, except in emergencies, and usually is in writing. A co‐parent therapist or a parent coordinator often helps parents handle parallel parenting arrangements.

In some counties, parents can attend high conflict resolution classes or cooperative parenting classes. In these classes, parents learn how continuing conflict will likely have a long‐term negative effect on their children. They also learn skills to be better co‐parents.

Milestones and Child Development (Long Distance Parenting and Relocation)

Parents who live away or must be apart from their children for a long time may feel disconnected from the children’s activities, interests and general concerns. Parents should keep one another informed about each child’s school progress, awards, special recognition, and report cards. Be sure to let the other parent know about the child’s extracurricular activities or interests and make the other parent aware of physical or emotional health concerns. Think about what you would like to know if you lived away from the child.

Traveling alone can be stressful for some children. When possible, have the receiving parent go along with the child.

Never-Married Parents

When parents aren’t married to each other when their child is born, the biological father has no legal right to custody or parenting time until paternity is legally established and the court orders custody and parenting time. Also, the court will not order child support until paternity is legally established.

When a parent has never spent time with the child, the court may order limited parenting time at first, with gradual increases in the frequency and length of time. Parenting time may be supervised at first until the parent gains parenting skills and the child feels comfortable with the parent.

Warm-up visitation or parenting time may be used to help parents who have been away for a long period to reconnect with their child and build toward a standard possession order schedule. Sometimes the supervisor in this situation may be a close relative or friend that the child knows well. Supervised visitation centers may also provide this service.

Parental Alienation

If you believe the other parent is trying to turn your child against you, see if your court order requires an attempt at mediation or co-parenting when parents disagree. Try to resolve these issues before going to court. Consider consulting a child psychologist or family counselor about how to respond to such situations.

In severe cases, this kind of behavior could be the basis for changing custody on the grounds of parental alienation. Talk to an attorney about whether court action is possible or would stop the behavior. Custody disputes can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and finding an alternative way to resolve conflicts outside of court is strongly encouraged.

Keep detailed record of specific acts by the other parent that you think are meant to alienate you from your child. Record dates, times, places, witnesses, and actions.

Recording phone calls with the other parent

In Texas, you may record your telephone conversations without the knowledge of the person on the other end of the call. You may not record children’s conversations with the other parent. Different states have different rules. If the other parent is in another state, talk to an attorney in that state before recording calls.

If you have reached such a high level of conflict and distrust with the other parent, consult with an attorney or call the Access and Visitation hotline at 1-866-292-4636 for help in getting cooperative parenting back on track. Calls are answered in both English and Spanish, Monday through Friday from 1:00-5:00 p.m.

Removing children from school or daycare

Check with the other parent, the school, and your child’s teacher for approval to remove the child from school. Your court order may prohibit this. Schools have strict attendance rules and unexcused absences can significantly affect your child’s grades. You may have to prove to the court why it was best for the child to skip school.

Restrictions on new girlfriend/boyfriend

In most cases, parents cannot be stopped from seeing a new boyfriend or girlfriend unless the person poses some risk of harm to the child. For example, if the significant other abuses drugs, the other parent has the right and the responsibility to protect the child from that person. A parent may ask the court to limit the child’s time with a significant other if there are serious concerns, such as the new partner is a registered sex offender. Many court orders require parents who date a registered sex offender to notify the other parent.

If the problem with the new partner is a personality conflict, in most cases the other parent cannot prevent the significant other from being around the child. Check your court order for restrictions, such as no overnight stays with a girlfriend/boyfriend while the child is with you. 

School Contact

In most cases, each parent has a right to consult with teachers, receive notification in case of an emergency, access records, and attend school functions. Check your court order for any restrictions regarding school or daycare visitation. If there are no restrictions, call the child’s school in advance to avoid disruptions and to find out the time of your child’s lunch break (if the school permits). Schools will not allow parents to interrupt testing. Leave a copy of your court order with the school to document your right to be involved in your child’s education.

Telephone or other communication with children outside of scheduled parenting time

In most cases, both parents have reasonable telephone or e-communication access to their children during reasonable hours (not during meals or after the child’s bedtime). Check your court order to see if there are restrictions on telephone or e-communication access or specific periods of access permitted.

Wild Cards

Parents can expect pre‐teens and teens, at a certain age and level of maturity, to negotiate with both parents about their living arrangements. One solution is to build into the plan some “wild card” days for the child to expand or shrink time inside an otherwise fixed schedule.

Parental Behaviors that Harm Children

Children are harmed when parents:

  • Make their child choose between them
  • Question their child about the other parent’s activities or relationships
  • Make promises they don’t keep
  • Drop in and out of the child’s life
  • Are inconsistent with exercising their parenting time
  • Argue or put down the other parent within earshot of the child
  • Discuss their personal problems with the child or within the child’s earshot
  • Use the child as a messenger, spy or mediator
  • Disrupt parenting time due to unpaid child support
  • Don’t show respect for each other
  • Undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent