Liberal Visitation Rights

By Beverly Bird

"Liberal" is one of those terms in divorce law that has no quantifiable meaning. It applies to the custody terms of your decree, describing the visitation arrangement that either you or your spouse will have with your children, depending on which of you is the non-custodial parent.

It's All Up to You

If you and your spouse agree that you'll be the custodial parent and he'll have liberal visitation rights, the two of you must maintain a reasonably amicable relationship after divorce. It will also help if you're not a stickler for ironclad rules. The phrase "liberal visitation" works in lieu of a set visitation schedule. Your divorce decree will not state exactly when your spouse will have time with the children. Rather, you may get a phone call on Thursday telling you that he wants them after school the next day and that he's keeping them for the weekend. You're expected to accommodate these requests, at least most of the time. Judges generally will not order this type of visitation unless parents have demonstrated an ability to get along and work together during the divorce process.

You May Have Nothing to Enforce

If you have problems post-divorce with your liberal visitation terms, you may be powerless to enforce a more reasonable routine unless you file a motion with the court to modify your decree. For example, if your decree includes a specific visitation schedule instead, and your ex is supposed to return your children by 7:00 p.m. on Sunday but never shows up, you can typically call the police to enforce the terms of your order. With liberal visitation, the law has nothing to enforce.

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Information About Visitation Rights

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.

Can a Noncustodial Parent Lose Visitation for Nonpayment of Child Support?

Courts encourage relationships between parents and children, so an ex-spouse who does not pay child support as ordered generally will not lose court-ordered visitation just because of the nonpayment. However, this does not mean the spouse receiving child support does not have resources to enforce the child support order and collect past-due payments.

Ideas for Sharing Custody

A shared parenting plan post-divorce or after parents break up might be the kindest gift they can give their children, according to “Parents” magazine. The custody laws in all states, which stress that children should have frequent and loving contact with both parents, are in line with this same principle. “Parents” magazine indicates that children who enjoy this contact after their parents part ways are better adjusted and have fewer socialization, school and behavioral problems. But shared custody requires the dedication of both parents to make it work.

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