In any child custody case, the child (or children) of the marriage cannot be in two places at the same time. They either will live with one parent or the other on given nights of the week or throughout the year, and one parent will often have more of those nights than the other.
If You Have Visitation
The first thing to remember is that if you are the parent with “visitation,” which often means that you have fewer of the nights with the child, this is not a reflection on you, or your quality as a parent. There are a lot of factors that play into whether a parent is the primary timesharing parent, or whether a parent gets visitation, and many of those factors have nothing to do with you, or your skills, quality, or worth as a parent.
The fact that you have visitation also does not affect your right to raise your child and make decisions about your child’s life. A parenting plan, custody agreement, or other document will be drafted and agreed upon between you and your spouse, which will detail what each parent has responsibilities for, and rights over, in the child’s life. The fact that you have visitation never takes away your constitutional right to make crucial decisions about your child’s upbringing, health and welfare.
Of course, despite all of this, many parents may understandably want as much visitation as possible. How does that happen? What are the factors that a judge or a court will look at now or in the future, in determining how much visitation that you will have with your child?
The Child’s Safety and Environment
Some factors are obvious and go without saying: the court will want to see that you provide a safe environment for your child, where the child’s needs are met. Understanding age-appropriate activities, keeping the child safe from exposure to drugs and alcohol or other dangers, are paramount.
That may also include your presence in the child’s life. That means that parents who work multiple jobs, or who may put their social life ahead of time with their child, may find visitation time reduced. Showing that you have the time and willingness to be an active, present and involved parent, will help show the court that you should get as much visitation as possible.
The court will want to disrupt the child’s life as little as possible. If you are out of the child’s school district, or far from the child’s friends or extra-curricular activities, that may affect the parenting time or visitation that you have with the child.
The court may look to the child’s physical environment. Does your child have his or her own room where you live? Are there activities that the child enjoys near you? Do you have family or relatives near you who are an active part in the child’s life?
The Other Parent
There are also a number of things that you can control, and things that you can do, to demonstrate that you should have as much visiting and parenting time with your child as possible.
One major thing you can do, is to have a healthy, working relationship with the child’s other parent, and that you refrain from belittling, insulting or fighting with the other parent in front of the child. Showing your child what a bad parent the other parent is, will not help you get more time with the child—it will have the opposite effect.
This does not mean that you have to be best friends with the other parent. It is OK and natural to maintain some hostility or anger towards the other parent. But that should never show up in front of the child, and the child should not be used as a “weapon” to “get back” at the other parent.
Use the Time You Have
You should also fight to have more time with your child, or if there is some kind of visitation schedule in place formally or informally with the other parent, you should exercise the visitation that you do have.
There are many parents who fight for visitation, and then when they get visitation time with the child, they proceed to miss pickup times, or they leave the child with babysitters, or just allow the other parent to have the child.
Of course, emergencies happen, and there is nothing wrong with parents working together to accommodate the other parent if schedules need to be rearranged or time needs to be missed. But the court will be hesitant to give you visitation (or more visitation), if it looks like you are not even using the time that you have with the child.
Be There for the Child
Be present in your child’s life-no matter where the child is physically located. For example, just because Thursday is mom’s night with the child, does not mean that you, as the dad, cannot go to the child’s play, or baseball game, or parent night at school. Make sure that all organizations where your child goes or attends, have both parents listed as contacts.
Track Time With the Child
If you have an informal visitation schedule, or if you do have an established schedule, but you and the other parent have deviated from it, keep track of any extra time that you are spending with the child (and any time the other parent is voluntarily passing up time with the child).
If you ever wanted to go back to court to ask a court to give you more visitation or parenting time, you will then have evidence of the time you are spending with the child, and of the time the other parent voluntarily gave up his or her time with the child.
There are things you can do to improve your chances of getting as much time with your child as possible after a divorce, or in a paternity action. An attorney at the Law Firm of Anthony J. Diaz can help. Contact us for questions about your child custody case.