How to Apply for Child Visitation Rights

By Brette Sember, J.D.

How to Apply for Child Visitation Rights

By Brette Sember, J.D.

Noncustodial parents may have the right to visitation, also called parenting time, with their child. Each state has its own procedures and forms to request visitation. To apply for visitation, you must be a legal parent of the child, meaning you must either be listed on the birth certificate or have been found to be the parent in a paternity proceeding.

Dad lying on grass reading children book to his two young children

There are several ways that you can obtain the right to visit with your child, some of which are more onerous than others. But if you have a good relationship with the other parent, you can start by trying to agree on terms with them before taking further action.

Try to Reach an Agreement

The first step in seeking visitation with your child is to try to work something out with the other parent. If the two of you are able to come to an agreement, you can then turn that agreement into an order by filing a petition with the agreement attached. You then notify the other parent, who can file papers stating they agree, or you can both appear at a hearing and simply consent. The agreement then becomes the order. If you only reach an informal agreement and never get it put into an order, you cannot enforce your agreement should the other parent change their mind.

If you and the other parent cannot reach an agreement about visitation time, you have two options for how to proceed. You can agree to see a mediator, who will help you work together to reach an agreement, or you can file a petition in court seeking an order granting you visitation. Both parents must pay the mediator, if that option is chosen. If you go to court, you can do so for free, aside from any fees associated with hiring an attorney, should you choose to use one.

Filing a Petition

If you opt to go to court, obtain the petition form used by your local family court, which can usually be found on the court's website or by picking up a form in person. The form needs to be completed with such information as the names and addresses for you and the other parent, the child's name and age, and the visitation rights you are seeking. Be specific in your request. For example, you could say you are asking for every other weekend from Friday at 6 p.m. to Sunday at 6 p.m., every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., two weeks of vacation over the summer, and alternating holidays. If there is a prior custody case, you need to reference the case or docket number, which you can get from the court clerk if you don't already have it.

File the petition with the court clerk. You may be required to serve the petition on the other parent or the court might do it for you. If you are required to serve it, get details from the court clerk about what constitutes legal service. You may be able to use certified mail, or you may have to hire a process server. If you need help applying for visitation, you may want to use an online service provider.

Court Appearances

At the first court appearance, which is scheduled by the court, the judge will encourage you and the other parent to try to reach an agreement. In some states, you may be required to have a certain number of sessions with a mediator to try to work out an agreement before the case can proceed. You may also be required to meet with court personnel to try to reach a settlement.

If you don't reach an agreement, your case will be scheduled for a hearing, at which you and the other parent will have the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses. Witnesses could include your child's teachers, doctors, friends, or neighbors who have seen interaction between your child and either parent. Evidence could include medical records or photographs or videos of interaction with your child. You will be able to testify yourself. After reviewing all the evidence, the court will make a decision based on what is in the best interest of your child. You will usually receive the judge's decision by mail.

Fulfilling Requirements

There is a chance that, although the judge might grant you visitation, it may come with certain requirements. For example, you could be ordered to attend parenting classes, take drug tests, or attend therapy before you are permitted to have visitation. If such requirements are given, you need to submit proof to the court that you have complied before visitation can start.

When following your visitation order, be sure to comply with the guidelines, otherwise your visitation privileges could be revoked. Also, try not to miss any visits as this can result in your visitation time being reduced since you are not actually using it.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.