Virginia's Judicial System

Visitation: Factors to Consider

This checklist is to let you know some factors a judge may consider when setting up child visitation schedules. While each family is different, every child needs to have a schedule that is consistent and predictable for seeing each parent, unless there is a concern about abuse or neglect. When you think about a schedule for visitation that you will propose to the other parent or to the judge, keep in mind that it should:

  • Be child-focused;
  • Encourage frequent and continuing contact with each parent;
  • Preserve the dignity of all parties;
  • Help the family spend time, money and emotional resources in the most positive ways; and,
  • Ensure that children benefit from a healthy, non-abusive family environment at all times.

In all cases, a visitation schedule should focus on the child. This can mean that a loving parent who wants only the best for the child(ren) might have to give up some things the parent might like to have to ensure that each child has a chance for a healthy, loving relationship with fit parents. Where the parties cannot agree on a visitation schedule for their child(ren), the judge may consider the following things in making a decision:

  • the age and developmental needs of each child, including:
    • any specific physical needs and the ability of each parent to address them (i.e., is the child being breast-fed and is there a way to address this need while with the father);
    • any specific psychological needs and the ability of each parent to address them;
    • any input by therapists, school counselors, or other professionals seen by the child;

  • the primacy of the parent/child relationship;

  • the ability of each parent to provide a healthy, non-abusive environment for each child, including:
    • any indication of abuse or neglect by either parent, or by a current spouse or person sharing the home of either parent;
    • any indication of a substance abuse problem by either parent, and the status of treatment, if any, that is being, or has been, received for this problem;
    • any indication of domestic violence by either parent against the other, or by or against a current spouse or person sharing the home of either parent;
    • the availability of a "safe site" if the home of either parent is determined to be unsafe for visitation, or the possibility of supervised visitation where some contact is appropriate,

  • the promotion of frequent and continuing contact with each parent, including:
    • appropriateness of contact when the factors listed above are considered;
    • the willingness of each parent to encourage each child's relationship with the other parent;
    • the ability of each parent to foster the relationship of each child with siblings in either household;
    • the willingness of each parent to encourage the relationship between each child and significant third parties in the child's life (grandparents, cousins, friends);
    • the ability of each parent to set appropriate limits and discipline effectively;
    • the willingness and ability of each parent to shield each child from "adult" conflicts with the other parent;

  • the willingness and ability of each parent to abide by existing court orders;

  • the practical impact of the visitation, including:
    • the day care and/or school schedules of each child;
    • the extracurricular activities of each child, and/or medical, psychological, or dental appointments requiring scheduling and transportation;
    • the distance each child would travel for visitation;
    • the availability of transportation to each parent and the willingness and ability of each parent to share in the obligation of transportation for the purpose of visitation;
    • the work schedules of each parent;

  • the impact of "special days" in scheduling visitation, including:
    • balance between school days and weekends or holidays, where geographically feasible;
    • recognition of days that are special for a child or a parent that are not traditional "holidays;" and,

  • the impact of the visitation schedule on the dignity of parents and child(ren) and on the family's ability to preserve resources by maximizing appropriate time spent with each parent and by making the schedule sufficiently concrete that areas of uncertainty and disagreement are less likely to arise.

Knowing that the judge may consider these factors when determining a visitation schedule, it may be helpful for you to think about them in advance. You might be able to discuss a visitation schedule with the other party and reach an agreement before you ever see the judge.

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