When you and your spouse divorce, it's unlikely that your child is going to live with either of you 24/7. The best scenario is that you'll have joint physical custody and your child will divide her time close to equally between your homes. Otherwise, she'll live with one of you full-time and the other parent will have visitation rights. Often, when parents separate and one continues to live in the marital home, custody will remain with her after the divorce to maintain consistency in the child's life. Courts generally award the other parent frequent, meaningful or reasonable visitation, but these terms can be vague and leave noncustodial parents confused.
Many states have a standard visitation schedule that judges fall back on when divorcing parents can't mediate or negotiate a schedule of their own. Generally, frequent, meaningful or reasonable visitation rights translate to every other weekend and one evening during the week. The evening visitation may not be overnight, except possibly in the summer when school on the following day is not an issue. Holidays are rotated on a yearly basis – if your spouse has this Thanksgiving, you'll have the holiday next year. Standard visitation schedules usually cover Mother's Day and Father's Day so your child is with the appropriate parent, and your child's birthday, so you both get to spend some time with her. Your ability to exercise all of your visitation rights may depend on your living arrangements. For example, if you live in a studio apartment or in a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate, the court may limit you to daytime visitation because your child would not have a suitable place to sleep.
Joint Physical Custody
Even if your divorce decree ultimately awards joint physical custody to you and your ex, you likely won't share time with your child on a precise 50-50 basis. Your visitation time might be more than the standard schedule, however. Your child might live with you three days a week and her other parent four days a week, or any variation that works for you and accommodates your child's schedule. Courts are most likely to order shared physical custody when parents live reasonably close to each other and they request it. For example, if you agree to this sort of an arrangement in a marital settlement agreement or at mediation, the court will probably approve it.
Denial of Visitation
Parental visits are considered to be in the child's best interests. Only the court can deny you visitation with your child, and this usually happens only in extreme circumstances, such as a conviction for certain crimes. And, even in this case, you might be awarded supervised visitation rights, with a third party always present. If your spouse repeatedly tries to deny you visitation on her own, this can affect a permanent custody arrangement. Courts frown on this type of interference, and it's possible that if it happens often enough, the court will award you primary physical custody in your decree and give your spouse visitation. Even if a judge doesn't change custody, you may have a right to make up the lost time with your child – additional days or overnights to compensate for the time your spouse denied you. In some states, the court can order your spouse to place a cash bond, and if she interferes with your time with your child again, she would lose that money.
Visitation and Child Support
Child support and visitation rights are totally unrelated under the law. If your spouse denies you the right to see your child, you can't take matters into your own hands and stop paying court-ordered support. Conversely, if you're behind with your support payments, your spouse can't deny you the right to see your child.