Last Updated: October 21, 2022
When married couples with children divorce, they must determine who will be the primary caregiver. If a judge awards full custody, (also called primary allocation of parental responsibility), to one parent, the children will reside with that parent the majority of the time. The other parent is typically provided with some child visitation rights (in some states, called “parenting time”. While going through the divorce process, many couples wonder how much visitation / parenting time is normally granted.
Types of Child Visitation / Parenting Time
Joint custody and sole custody are the two main types of custody that exist. Many aspects of them can be similar, but there are some main differences between the two when it comes to a parenting time / child visitation schedule. Although a parenting schedule might look similar, the legal aspects of joint vs. sole custody are different.
Joint Custody / Shared Parenting Time
Joint custody can refer to both the legal rights (decision making / allocation of parental responsibilities) and it can refer to the type and amount of parenting time each person has. Joint custody as it relates to parenting time is popular because it features some flexibility since the parents can likely work together. When parents receive joint custody, they decide the visitation schedule. The goal is to allow the children to spend time separately with each parent. The parents determine reasonable places and times for children to visit one or both parents, developing a schedule that may change daily or weekly.
Sole Custody / Primary Parenting Time
Sole custody, like joint custody, can either involve the legal decision making for kids (things like education, healthcare, extracurricular activities, etc.). It can also include the amount of parenting time each parent is awarded by the divorce judge. When a parent is awarded sole custody, it normally means that the other parent (known as the ‘noncustodial parent’) has significantly less parenting time than the other parent (the custodial parent).
Parenting Plan’s for Child Visitation
With the two main types of custody being joint custody or sole custody, many different scenarios present themselves for parenting time. Whichever type custody is awarded to each parent the court will want a set parenting plan written for each parent to follow. Parenting plans involve a consistent schedule determined by the parents or the court. If one parent is awarded sole custody and the other is considered a threat or dangerous to the child, supervised visitation with a third-party present, such as a counselor or therapist, may be the only acceptable arrangement.
A typical parenting plan for parents that are awarded sole custody might allow for the noncustodial parent to have parenting time (child visitation) every other weekend (Friday-Sunday) and maybe dinner one night every week. A typical parenting plan for an award of joint custody might actually be the same child visitation schedule for the noncustodial parent, but it could also be something like alternating weeks. An alternating weeks schedule means the parenting time is equal (50/50).
Parenting Plans – Decision Making
Parenting plans also deal with decision making (known as the allocation of parental responsibilities). For cases that are joint custody in nature, both parents would have equal rights to decision making for the kids. This means the parents discuss significant child rearing decisions and agree. For cases where one parent is granted sole custody, that parent typically is awarded all decision-making ability and they only have to provide notice to the other parent of what decision they alone made.
Agreed Parenting Arrangements
In an amicable divorce, parents may make a mutual decision regarding visitation rights. If the parents are not in agreement, a judge will make the final visitation decision. All parties involved must testify and factors like testimony from the child, which parent serves as the primary caregiver to-date, and the criminal background of the parents may carry weight. One or both parents may petition to change the visitation agreement by revisiting the judge who initially made the decision in the future even. Although, mediation is typically the first step when a parenting plan modification is requested by a parent.
In order for each parent to ensure they are granted a reasonable amount of child visitation, either the parents must agree on a written plan, or a lawyer needs to get involved. Establishing a consistent routine is important for children of any age, especially those who are products of divorced families. Many couples seek the assistance of a child visitation lawyer when determining the visitation schedule. Divorce lawyers offer free consultations to people to determine what a parents needs and wants are – and to provide a realistic idea of what to expect.