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The Do’s & Don’ts of Child Visitation

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What Is Visitation in Pennsylvania?

Visitation refers to the legal right granted to a non-custodial parent or sometimes other relatives to spend time with a child. This arrangement is essential in scenarios where parents are separated or divorced or if one parent is deemed unfit for full custody. Visitation rights are established with the child's best interests in mind, aiming to maintain a healthy and active relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent or relatives.

In Pennsylvania, visitation can be categorized into two primary types: supervised and unsupervised. The determination of which type of visitation is appropriate depends on various factors, including the child's welfare, any history of abuse, and the overall capability of the non-custodial parent to care for the child.

Supervised visitation is typically ordered when the child's safety and well-being cannot be guaranteed under unsupervised circumstances. During supervised visitation, the non-custodial parent is allowed to spend time with the child only in the presence of an authorized adult or professional supervisor.

This arrangement ensures that the child is safe and that the visitation occurs in a controlled environment. Supervised visitation might be temporary, used as a tool for reintroducing or establishing a relationship between the parent and child, or it might be permanent in cases where there are significant concerns about the child's safety.

Unsupervised visitation is the more common form of visitation, where the non-custodial parent is permitted to spend time with the child without the need for a supervisor. This type of visitation assumes that the child is safe with the non-custodial parent and that they are capable of caring for the child during the visit. Unsupervised visitation allows for a more natural and private interaction between the parent and child, which can include visits to the non-custodial parent's home, overnight stays, and participation in everyday activities.

The specifics of each visitation schedule, whether supervised or unsupervised, are typically detailed in a court order, which outlines the frequency, duration, and conditions of visitation. It's important for both parents to adhere to this agreement to ensure the arrangement functions smoothly and benefits the child's development and emotional well-being.

In Pennsylvania, as in all states, the primary consideration in determining visitation rights is the best interest of the child. Courts aim to facilitate a healthy relationship with both parents, provided it does not compromise the child's safety or well-being. Parents are encouraged to work collaboratively to create a visitation schedule that serves the best interest of their child, with the understanding that the court's involvement is available to resolve any disputes or concerns that may arise.

Making the Most of Visitation Time

Below, we outline ways that parents can make the most of their parenting time:

Do Prioritize the Child's Well-Being

The cornerstone of any visitation arrangement is the child's well-being. It is the responsibility of both parents to ensure that the child feels safe, loved, and supported during visitation times. This means creating an environment where the child can thrive emotionally and psychologically.

Parents should be attuned to the child's responses to visitation and be prepared to address any concerns that arise. It's also important to maintain consistency with the child's routine, as this provides a sense of stability and security.

Don’t Make Visitation Gloomy

Visitation is not just about physical presence; it's about quality time spent together. Parents should engage in activities that the child enjoys and use visitation as an opportunity to strengthen their bond. This could include playing games, attending events, or simply having meaningful conversations.

Parents who have primary custody should also avoid disparaging the other party or making the scheduled visits feel like something that their child should dread. Children can pick up on and mimic or internalize these feelings, which can impact their relationship with both parents.

Do Engage in Healthy Communication Between Parents

Effective communication between parents is essential for a smooth visitation experience. It sets the tone for cooperation and mutual respect, which are critical for managing the logistics of visitation and addressing any issues that may arise.

Parents should establish clear and consistent methods of communication, whether through phone calls, emails, or a co-parenting app, to coordinate visitation schedules and share important information about the child's needs. This open line of communication can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that both parents are on the same page regarding the child's care.

It's also important for parents to communicate in a way that is constructive and focused on problem-solving. Discussions should be approached with the intent to reach a resolution that serves the child's best interests, rather than rehashing past conflicts. When disagreements occur, parents should strive to handle them calmly and respectfully.

Don’t Engage in Negative Talk Around the Child

One of the most damaging pitfalls to avoid during child visitation is engaging in negative talk about the other parent in the presence of the child. As we mentioned, this behavior can create confusion, anxiety, and feelings of divided loyalty in the child, which can have long-term emotional repercussions.

It is crucial for parents to shield their children from adult conflicts and to refrain from using the child as a messenger or sounding board for grievances. Instead, parents should focus on fostering a positive atmosphere that allows the child to enjoy their time with each parent without being burdened by parental discord.

Children are perceptive and can pick up on subtleties in tone and behavior, so it's important for parents to be mindful of their conduct during exchanges and visitations. Even non-verbal cues can convey negativity, so maintaining a neutral and respectful demeanor is key. When discussing the other parent, it's best to do so in a positive or neutral light, emphasizing the importance of the child's relationship with both parents.

Do Respect Visitation Time

Respect goes both ways when it comes to visitation. Custodial parents, this means honoring the other parent's time with your child. Avoid last-minute schedule changes or making them feel unwelcome during their designated days. For non-custodial parents, punctuality is key. Showing up late disrupts the flow of the visit and sends a message that the time isn't valuable. Remember, consistent missed visits can be used in court to modify custody agreements, so reliability and punctuality are important.

Don’t Mistakenly Believe You Have to Handle Everything Alone

If you're a non-custodial parent looking for support with child visitation rights, remember that you're not alone. William Kirby Law, Family Law Attorneys is here to help. Our team of compassionate and experienced attorneys can offer you legal counsel and discuss your questions and concerns. Whether you need help with a modification claim or initial filing, you can trust us to provide personalized counsel.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist with your custody and visitation case. Call (215) 515-9901 today.