Custody Versus Visitation – Understanding the Difference Ahead of Divorce Proceedings

Divorce is a complicated process with many components—your family’s future being one of them. Though you may feel nervous at the prospects of losing touch with your children, you should first know your options before discussing your family’s future. Read on to learn more about: 

  • The Basics of Child Custody and How it Factors into Your Divorce; 
  • Understanding Visitation as it Relates to Your Family; and 
  • Navigating Both Child Custody and Visitation During and After Divorce. 

 

Child Custody: What to Know Before You Go into Divorce 

When it comes to your divorce, a major factor in organizing and planning for your family’s future is who gets to make decisions on behalf of your child. 

The legal definition of custody varies based on the type. When married, both you and your spouse have full custody, which is in-effect joint custody for both parents. Joint custody allows you to make important decisions on behalf of your child; these include medical, religious, educational, and living arrangement choices that need to be made. However, once divorce comes, there is a chance you may see yourself operating in a different capacity. 

 

Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, both parents may share legal and physical custody. Legal custody refers to those important plans and decisions you make on behalf of your child. If your divorce is more amicable, giving both you and your former spouse joint legal custody allows you to have an equal say in your child's upbringing. On the other hand, physical custody refers to your child’s residence with one or both parents.

Divorces may go one of a few ways, but the two most popular are either court or mediation. The latter will allow you to work with a neutral party to help guide both you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse through the process in a way that lets both of you decide how you want to live your life post-divorce. Rather than let a judge decide based on the facts presented by both attorneys in a courtroom setting, you get to arrive at a conclusion together you think may be best for your family. 

 

If you do not want to complicate a divorce, go for mediation and explore the option of staying closer with your children through prioritizing custody arrangements. However, if you don’t believe your children will be safe with your spouse or you do not believe you and your spouse will be able to reach an agreement, pursuing a divorce in court is the best way to argue your side. 

Gaining full custody is difficult, but like all custody decisions made at the court level, the judge will examine what may be in the best interests of your child to determine whether sole custody is valid. 

 

The main takeaway here is custody mainly deals with important decisions and living arrangements, whereas visitation involves shorter periods of custody with less impactful decision-making.  

The Ins and Outs of Visitation

In the event one parent takes custody of their child, the other biological parent will always have a right to visitation: the same can be said for stepparents, grandparents, or other court-approved parties. 

What does visitation usually entail? Visitation is a schedule for periodic contact between a child and their parent (or above-listed visitor). This could take the form of a segmented and reoccurring visits, but also less rigid, flexible meetings happening every couple of weeks (or even months). You can also work out holiday schedules if you’d like to see your child for the special days out of every year. 

 

All visitation schedules are dependent on you and your former spouse’s schedules. Same as custody, meditation is the most ideal way to work out the specifics and figure out where the best dates fall. 

There may be situations, however, where the courts deny visitation entirely or orders for supervised visitation. Bringing cases of neglect or danger to the court will allow a judge to decide on whether visitation would be safe for your child. This is not dissimilar to the process of vying for full custody, as the courts have the power to prevent contact if it serves the best interest of your child. 

 

In addition, if your ex-spouse or anyone with visitation rights has a prior issue with parenting, troubles with drug or alcohol abuse, or prior criminal convictions, a court may order supervised visitation. These typically take place at facilities where staff may monitor a child and their visiting parent to make sure they comply with guidelines. 

These two options may seem similar in spirit but differ in many fundamental ways. 

 

The Differences Between Child Custody and Visitation

First, we want to draw a distinction between physical custody and visitation. The two may be linked by the child visiting a parent, but remember, split physical custody requires the child to live at least 35% of the time with their parent. Visitation isn’t long-term; it’s more so “parenting time” for the noncustodial parent. Your ability to make decisions and give input on your child’s upbringing may vary based on the court’s ruling or reached agreement. 

Courts weigh custody and visitation differently because of factors like these. The decision to reward or prohibit custody is a very serious one. Though courts may look at similar components of a parent’s life to determine their fitness, custody requires a more in-depth look at a parent’s character, record, how they parent the child, and their decision-making abilities. Even so, with joint custody, a judge may assess the long-term viability of you and your ex-spouse’s communication and cooperation. 

 

Do not be mistaken, though: visitation is still a significant aspect of divorce a judge will examine with deference. On a personal level, you will notice the differences between the two if you are used to seeing your kids daily. For that, it is best to reach out and get on top of your divorce. If you need expert help negotiating your future with your family, contact our offices for a free initial consultation.

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