FAQs about Child Visitation Rights

Ask most divorced parents about child visitation rights, and you're likely to hear some discontent about the situation. Either your ex isn't complying with the schedule or maybe there are more serious issues where you're worried about your child's safety. 

By WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D. 

The following answers from our experts may help you understand different aspects of your own situation and what your child visitation rights are. 

Visitation Schedules

Custody and Child Visitation Rights

Visitation without court orders

Enforcing the Visitation Schedule

Medical Concerns During Visitation

Inconsistent Visitation

Visitation with an Absent Parent

Changing Visitation

School and Extracurricular Activities

Housing Arrangements and Visitation

Visitation Safety Concerns

Custodial Parent Rights

New Spouses and Significant Others

Visitation Schedules

When do the visitation times actually begin and end?

Question: I am the supervisor for my brother's visits with his 3year old. He sees him for 2 hours on both Saturday and Sunday. Does the 2 hours start when I go get him, or does it start when I get back to my brother's house? I am asking because she threatens to get my brother in trouble, if not on time to the exact minute! I start the time when I get to his place and it ends when I leave. Thank you in advance!

Brette's Answer: Generally visitation is from drop off to pick up. If your brother feels this is not enough time, he could ask to have the time increased.

What is a good visitation schedule if it wasn’t set up initially?

Juley's Question: I have sole custody, physical and legal. The judge did not give him any visitation unless I allowed him to see our daughter at my convenience. I've allowed him to see her without him taking her anywhere, but now it’s becoming frustrating as he seems to think he can pop in whenever he feels like for however long he feels...7 AM, 9 PM, 5 minutes to an hour. We need some kind of stability. What would be a good visitation schedule?

Brette's Answer: To avoid this problem, you could get your order modified with a set schedule if you don't like the constant communication and uncertainty. The visitation schedule should depend on your child's age and needs, the relationship she has with her father, and what works with the parents' schedules. There is no one size fits all. The traditional visitation schedule used to be every other weekend with one evening per week, but that is by no means something that works for everyone. Why don't you take a look at how often he has been visiting the past few weeks and try to normalize that into a set schedule going forward.

What is a realistic visitation schedule for an infant?

Rachel's Question: My daughter is 9 months old and we have been separated since before she was born. He has seen her every Sunday for 3-4 hours at my home since her birth. When she was 6 months old, he started spending 10 hours with her at my home on one of my 2 work days.

Now he wants his one weekday for 10 hours plus 3 weekends a month for 6-8 hours on both days (with a break for nap/breastfeeding). Is this a "reasonable" visitation schedule for an infant? I don't think it is best for an infant to be shuttled 160 miles round trip for visitation. It is my hope that we could change to every other weekend here at her home.

Brette's Answer: I think that is excessive for a child so young. I think it is wonderful that you've agreed he will have her one day a week while you work. What about letting him have the other day while you are at work? I think alternate weekends would be sufficient. If he comes to your house the days you are working, I think it is reasonable for her to go to his house 2 weekend days a month - that is a fair compromise. She does need to learn to go to his home and become comfortable there.

Would a court order overnight visitation if I’m breastfeeding?

Liz's Question: I'm the mom of a 7 month old and currently going through a divorce. My spouse suddenly wants to be more involved with her, but he lives in another state and visits 1-2 times a month for a couple of days. I'm still breastfeeding most of the time but especially at night (3-4 times still).  He’s now demanding to have overnight visitation for 2 weeks. She would be traumatized and suffer from separation anxiety. Would a court allow overnight visitation for such a young infant under this circumstance? I can't possibly pump that much and she has never been separated from me overnight.

Brette's Answer: These decisions are made based on what is in the best interest of the child. Having a relationship with both parents is considered in the best interest but so is breastfeeding. You should talk with an attorney who can help you try to negotiate a settlement or prepare for a trial. 

Would a judge order me to reduce breast feeding because of visitation?

Maria's Question: I am not able to express any more than an ounce of breast milk, and my son never has taken a bottle. He is now ten months old and still very breast milk dependent. Can the courts force me to decline in the amount of breastfeeding as a result of access?

Brette's Answer: I think you have a very strong case since breastfeeding is recommended for the first 12 months. It would not be in your son's best interest to have to stop. That would be your argument in any case. Good luck.

Is it true that a child can't stay overnight until they are 3 years old?

Amy's Question: Is it in any standard custody order that a child may not stay overnight with the father till they are 3 years of age? My sister-in-law is claiming this is the law and my brother is crushed so I would like to see if there is any truth to this.

Brette's Answer: Each order is different. Your brother needs to read what the court ordered in his specific order.

Can he take our baby overnight if he's never cared for her alone?

Tina's Question: I was given full physical custody when my default divorce was granted. My ex disappeared for the initial few months of my daughter's life (she is now 9 months old), and when she was 4 months old, he started coming to see her intermittently a few times a week. He is now threatening to take me to court to change custody because I won't allow him to take her alone yet (he has never been alone with her and has no idea how to care for her). What should I do?

Brette's Answer: Eventually he would be likely be given the right to be with her alone. I understand your concerns about this though. She's too young to suddenly go to his house for every weekend - what a court would do is order a gradual increase in visitation.

What you might consider doing is creating a plan that will gradually allow him to be alone with her. Start by leaving them alone in a room at your home. Then go to the backyard or outside for a little bit. Next, suggest he take her to his house for an hour, or perhaps to his parents' house.

At some point though, overnights are going to be a good idea for her. If he is a good father and cares for her appropriately, it isn't unreasonable to ask to spend some overnight time with her. She's his daughter too. The best way to move into overnights is to do so gradually. After she is used to going to her father's house, I would recommend increasing that slowly, so she spends all day with him. She also needs to be comfortable sleeping there, so start by having naptime there. Then expand it so she is there for dinner and so on. If she loves and trusts him, she will do just fine in his care.

I would suggest trying to work this out together if you can. You have to realize he has a right to be in her life, but he has to realize that it takes time to build a relationship and learn parenting skills.

How do we set up visitation if he works all the time?

Linda's Question: How do we decide on custody of our 14 months old and 2 months old babies? He wants visitation rights, but he works from 6:45 AM until late depending on the company's work load. He has a son from a previous marriage who is in a special needs center in a nearby state. He is not capable of taking care of 2 babies while working long hours during the week and visiting his other son on Saturdays. Before we split, my grandparents filed charges on me for cashing checks without their permission. I have moved in with them so they can help provide for us until the case is settled.

Brette's Answer: You could do "visitation at times as agreed" which means when it works out with his schedule. You didn't mention Sundays, so maybe he is available then? I find it strange that your grandparents filed charges against you but then let you move in. Getting those charges dropped would be a good idea if your spouse is contesting your request for custody.

What is a realistic visitation schedule if he travels all the time?

MJP's Question: My son's father lives in Florida and travels extensively across the country with a professional sports organization (10 months out of the year). What is a realistic expectation of visitation set by a court? He cannot care for our son during their season, but for a few days at a time.

Brette's Answer: A visitation schedule that fits around his travel would be reasonable. Visitation at times as agreed when the father is in his home town would be one way to say it.

How can we do 50/50 visitation if his work schedule won't allow it?

Susan's Question: We've been trying to work out a 50/50 split visitation for the past month. I have a set schedule with my job, and he travels out of town with his job. He is adamant that he doesn't want to pay child support and he wants 50/50 visitation, but his work schedule is not going to allow that? And I don't have the flexibility to switch days around as my ex is requesting. How do I go about setting up a visitation schedule?

Brette's Answer: You have to just sit down with the calendar and figure out what will work. It is often hard to find a way to create a 50/50 split; so many families end up with every other weekend and then some time during weekdays.

How should a custodial grandparent set up weekend visitation for both parents?

Sharon's Question: I have custody of my three granddaughters. The parents aren't together anymore. The father wants every other weekend from Friday at 6 to Sunday at 6. That doesn't give anytime for the mom to have visitation. How we had been doing it was he got them Friday at 6 to Saturday at 6. I don't want to give up our weekends with the children and I think the mom should have them sometimes as well as him and us. Do you have suggestions for that?

Brette's Answer: They could alternate weekends. Or you could set up a schedule where you have them one weekend, he gets the next, she gets the one after that. Or alternate weekends where a parent gets Saturday and you get Sunday. There are endless permutations. Weeknight visits are also possible. 

Can I set visitation times if the decree doesn't include a set schedule?

Audrina's Question: I have a divorce decree that does not specify visitation. It simply says "Visitation will be determined between the parties". What rights does this give the children's father regarding visitation and scheduling? They live with me. Doesn't this mean I should have precedence over setting the visitation times?

Brette's Answer: When visitation is "as determined by the parties" it means you are to work out a reasonable agreement together. It does NOT mean you alone get to decide. It means you are supposed to find a way to cooperate and be reasonable with each other. If you cannot agree, you'll wind up back in court where the judge will decide for you. I highly recommend you make every effort to work something out because once it's left in the judge's hands, you'll have no say over it. Good luck.

Would a judge allow him to have visitation every weekend?

Candace's Question: The visitation order only outlines the plan for the summertime. The school year plan is supposed to be worked out by us. His only suggestion is taking the kids Friday after school and dropping them off on Monday. Would a judge really grant a mother no weekend time at all during the school year?

Brette's Answer: The most common schedule would be every other weekend plus every Wednesday night for a few hours. Every weekend with one parent is not generally done.

Can I stop him from picking up the kids during the week if it's not in the schedule?

Staci's Question: My kids reside with me and my ex has every other weekend visitation. He comes to my house anytime he wants and takes the kids and doesn’t let me know that he has them. Is there anything legal I can do to stop him from doing this?

Brette's Answer: Yes, file for a violation of the order with the court. You could also change your locks so he can't get in and make sure your child is not alone at home so he can't just come and take him. 

Is he violating the visitation order if he meets our son for lunch?

Ann's Question: My ex is under a temporary restraining order. He has visitation on the first and third Saturday of the month from 9 am to 5 pm. Once a week, he goes to his school and meets my son during his lunch time for 30 minutes. Kids eat lunch in their classroom and their teacher is also present during lunch time. Is that violation of visitation order?

Brette's Answer: If the order does not specifically say he can do so or if it does not say "other times as agreed" then yes. This is a safe, supervised way for him to have contact. Whether the judge would have a problem with it is another matter.

What does limited visitation at my discretion mean?

Tracy's Question: I was awarded sole custody almost a year ago and he was given supervised visitation. The decree states limited visitation at my discretion and I may be as protective as needed. It was a very abusive situation and a few incidents involved the children (they are still very scared of him). I've already had them in therapy, and they are in a stable environment now and very happy. When he does call, it only upsets them and they start talking about what has happened in the past. I feel it's not in their best interest to have any kind of visitation with him at all. What exactly does limited visitation mean and am I doing anything wrong regarding it?

Brette's Answer: If the court left it up to you, you should make decisions as you see fit. It means you get to decide when and how often occurs. I would recommend consulting with the children's therapist if you're not sure how to proceed.

What if my divorce papers say extended visitation but the court records say regular?

Dawn's Question: My divorce papers state that my ex has extended visitation, but in the court records by the court reporter it say regular visitation. How do I get this changed?

Brette's Answer: You'll have to make a motion to have the court reconcile the two.

Does he lose his spring break visitation by not taking her the whole week?

Shelbie's Question: Our daughter was supposed to spend the entire spring break with her dad, but he failed to pick her up. Now wants to get her for the last weekend of spring break. Do I have to let her go or did he forfeit his time by not taking her for the whole week?

Brette's Answer: If it's his time he is entitled to use it. However your order might include provisions about when notice has to be given. Check with your attorney. 

At what age is Skype visitation appropriate?

Emily's Question: My ex-husband was awarded joint legal custody but no physical custody. He only was awarded visitation via phone or Skype when age appropriate. How old is age appropriate? My son is currently 8 months old.

Brette's Answer: That is something you should discuss with your attorney because your state may have guidelines or precedent. I think Skype would be the easiest way to start because a young child will have trouble with a phone call. It really depends on your child's development and needs. 

Custody and Child Visitation Rights

Can he pick my son up at school if I have sole legal custody?

April's Question: I divorced my ex two years ago, and we have a six year old child together. My decree states that I have sole legal custody in regard to the child's best interests and party's agreement. Above that it is check-marked that we are to share legal and physical custody per "parenting plan". My son started kindergarten this year and the school says that if my ex goes to the school to pick him up, they would have to allow it. My child has no clue who he is. He has not had any contact and he also stated in court that he wanted no future contact. What rights do I have? He had his chance to get to know his child and he failed. He doesn't deserve to see him, whether or not he wants to.

Brette's Answer: Sole legal custody means you have decision making power about medical and education decisions. I don't understand how it can also say shared legal, since that is a contradiction. Shared physical custody means there should be a parenting plan established. If you don't want your ex to be able to access your child from school, you need an order that specifies when, if at all he is permitted visitation. If he has none, you need an order that says that. That will provide protection. So seek a modification. I have to tell you though I think your attitude is not the best for your child. I understand your anger and resentment; however people make mistakes and people change. It is possible to walk away from your child and realize your mistake and come back and be a real parent. Your child deserves to have two parents if possible. Good luck.

Do I have to go to parenting classes before the divorce is finalized?

Amanda Asks: My husband filed for divorce and it is currently pending. Do I have to go to parenting classes before they will finalize the divorce?

Brette's Answer: You would need to find out if this is a requirement in your state. If so, then yes, you must attend. Good luck. (Find out more about parenting classes)

What happens if one of us doesn't take the parenting class?

Gina's Question: We have filed for divorce. We are required to take a parenting class along with our 2 children. It says we have 45 days to take this class or our case could be dismissed. What happens if one of us doesn't take the class? Can we be held in contempt for not completing it?

Brette's Answer: The person who does not attend is the one who will face contempt charges. It's likely the court would give that person another chance to complete it first though. Good luck.

Should I modify visitation if he hasn't taken the parenting class?

Lajoyce's Question: When I divorced, the judge gave me physical and legal custody. He put a stipulation in the divorce for no overnights until my ex completed the parenting class for divorced parents. To date he has not completed the class but is drilling me for visits. I don't know where he lives or if he even has a car. I would like for the kids to spend some time with him and I have offered to set up visits at my mom's when he takes the class. Should I modify the visitation because he's giving me a hard time?

Brette's Answer: You don't need to do anything. He hasn't complied with the terms of the order and is not entitled to visitation, period. If you want visits to take place, keep doing what you are - offering him a safe place to see the kids. If he chooses not to accept, it's his problem.

Is it my father's right to see me even if I don't want to see him?

Michael's Question: My mother, who has custody, was hospitalized and I was staying at a friend's house. Is it my father's right to see me even if I don't want to see him? If so why does he say it's a must and is he lying to me? I'm only 13 so I don't know if this changes anything.

Brette's Answer: Hi Michael. I'm sorry your mom was sick and I hope she's ok. If your dad has an order that gives him the right to see you, he does have the right. And if your mom is in the hospital, he would be the one who would have responsibility for taking care of you. If you don't want to see your dad, you should talk about this with both of your parents. A lot of kids feel this way at some point, but your dad will always be your dad and it might make sense to find a way to deal with each other. If your mom ever asked the court to change the parenting plan, the judge would be interested in your opinion, but you would not get to decide if you would spend time with your dad.

Do I have to give him my address if I only have visitation?

Darlene's Question: I am moving 25 miles from my son who lives with his dad. His dad has sole custody and I have visitation rights, but he says I have to supply the address even though I am willing to give him phone numbers where I can be reached. He has driven by my apartment everyday several times and I will be moving in with a guy who is in my life. Do I have to give him this information?

Brette's Answer: Not unless your order requires you to give him the address. If you feel he is harassing you, then you can wait for him to take you to court and you can explain to the judge why you don't want to disclose the address. The judge might decide not to give him the address. He might also decide he can have it but could put a restraining order in place ordering him to stay away.

Can I pick up my kids if my sister-in-law has temporary custody?

Ashlie's Question: Can I legally pick my kids up from their fathers sister if she has temporary legal custody if there have been no visitation right established?

Brette's Answer: If she agrees to visitation, then yes. If she does not agree, you need to seek to have the temporary order modified to permit visitation.

Can I refuse visitation if I have sole custody?

H's Question: If a parent has sole custody of the child, and the other parent has visitation rights, can the parent with sole custody refuse to let the child go to see the other parent at any time?

Brette's Answer: No. If the order sets out specific visitation times, they must be adhered to. If the order does not set specific times, then visitation is at time as agreed upon. If the parties can't agree, they'll end up back in court. Refusing to agree to any visitation time is not reasonable unless there is a serious problem.

Can he change the requirement that I be present for visitation?

Lisa's Question: I have sole physical and legal custody of our children 15, 18, 25. The children requested that I be present at the time of visitation, which was documented and signed by my ex and signed on the final judgment. I hadn't even heard from him for the last 2 months. He is now insisting that he see my son 15 without me present and that he can have this enforced by the courts. He also set up a mediation session without my consent and is verbally forcing me to comply with this appointment. Do I have to comply with this?

Brette's Answer: If the judgment says you must be present he can't change that without your consent. He can't compel you to go to mediation, only the court can do that.

Can I do anything about the visitation if he's a bad influence?

Toni's Question: I have physical custody of my 6 and 8 year old children. Their dad has visitation every other weekend. Sometimes he doesn't get them, other times the kids call early and want to come home because they don't like spending time with him. If he does keep them a whole weekend, they usually go visit his ex-girlfriend for a day without him. He told my 6 year old that it was ok to skip sometimes and it was ok to quit school too. Last winter he had me take them to a psychologist because our youngest didn't like him, he blamed me. The psychologist said they were good well-adjusted kids. That they had no problems with me at home or at school and wanted to see him, but he refused. Is there anything I can do? He is being a bad influence on my children and I can't make him realize it.

Brette's Answer: I agree with you that he's not being a good role model, but nothing you've described is enough to take away his rights. I agree that they should not be spending time with his ex-girlfriend instead of with him, so that is an important point that you could use in court should it come to that. I'm glad you took them to a psychologist. I think it might be helpful for him to talk with the psychologist, who might be able to help him realize the mistakes he is making. I think you might try talking to him about whether the schedule really works for him. If he's bringing them home early a lot of the time, maybe he would like to change the schedule to just Saturday every other weekend or maybe one weekend a month. Then he might have a greater attention span when they are there and there might be more to do. His stupid comments are in fact stupid, but it's not up to you to point that out to him. You are a good role model for your girls, so continue to be that. If you need to take the kids back to the psychologist, do that, should things get worse.

What can I do if he only wants visitation with one child?

Sara's Question: My ex and I split up 2 years ago. We have a 6 year old son and a 4 year old daughter, and he has had visitation with them every other weekend. I notice a big difference in how he treats the kids (there has never been a bond between my ex and our daughter). On his last visit he contacted me very angry and told me to come get MY daughter and that he didn't want her there anymore and that she was ruining his time he spends with our son. Do I try to force the relationship with my daughter and her dad? Do I continue to allow my son to go for his visits? Obviously my biggest concern is what is best for BOTH of the kids.

Brette's Answer: You're going to have a real problem if you allow him to select one child to have a relationship with. Think how your daughter would feel when she is 8 and her brother goes on visitation and she doesn't. That would be very damaging to her, to know that her father has rejected her but chose her brother. It would also damage the relationship between the siblings. Visitation needs to be with both kids, Period. He's her father. He needs to create a relationship. He may be having trouble with her current stage of development. I think you should encourage him to continue spending time with her. One idea is to suggest he have one day with your son and one day with your daughter. Spending equal amounts of individual time can be a way to bond. Maybe you could suggest some fun things they could do together or activities that she would enjoy.

What can I do if he refuses visitation with our oldest child?

Wendy's Question: Our oldest daughter has severe epilepsy and her father said she could not come back over until she seeks counseling. Well we did that & he still will not see or speak with her. However our younger child goes to see him every other weekend & now she is starting to hate her older sister. This is killing the other child. Can I refuse to bring my youngest daughter to him on his weekend? I really don't want him to bring me to court because I cannot financially afford a lawyer right now.

Brette's Answer: I think it is hurtful and damaging that he will not see your older child. While courts cannot force visitation to take place, I think a judge would be very interested in this situation. If he is in fact trying to turn your youngest against your oldest, the court might order some counseling to get this straightened out, or in extreme circumstances, curtail visitation with the youngest.

If you refuse visitation with the youngest, you place yourself in the dangerous position of causing parental alienation (which can eventually be the basis for a change in custody). I can understand why you might not want to continue visitation. If you stop visitation, this would be a reason for him to take you back to court. You could seek to modify your visitation order yourself and you don't need an attorney - just go to Family Court.

Will it matter if he wants visitation with our child and not his others?

Catherine's Question: My ex is taking me to court for visitation. He has 2 other children (with 2 other mothers) that he has never even met. Is there anything I can do about him wanting visitation with my child and not the others?

Brette's Answer: Not really. You can certainly bring it up, but it doesn't necessarily mean he shouldn't have a relationship with this child.

Is visitation enforceable if the other parent is in assisted living?

Connie's Question: My niece is living in a nursing care facility due to an illness that prevents her from living on her own. Since this illness, her husband has divorced her and has custody of their child. He was instructed by the divorce judge to have their son visit his mother every Sunday and every other Wednesday. He only does the Sunday visits when he wants to and has never visited on Wednesday. He also will not let our family see the child. How or what can I do to see that he follows the visitation that was set up?

Brette's Answer: Your niece, or her legal guardian if she is not mentally competent, can file a petition for violation of the order. If there are grandparents, they can also file a petition for visitation for themselves, which would offer a way for the extended family to see the child.

What if my ex wants our son in daycare while he works?

Emilee's Question: I have sole custody of my 7 year old and his father has visitation. I am a stay at home mom and available to watch my son, but my ex-husband says he's going to put him in day care on his scheduled visitation when he's at work and doesn't want me watching him on those days. The court order does not directly address this issue, what is legal and what is not?

Brette's Answer: You can file a petition for modification. A court almost always prefers a child to be with a parent than in a child care situation.

Can he use his visitation to send her to her grandparents?

K's Question: My ex hasn't seen or contacted our daughter in about 4 years. Now he wants the visitation agreed upon in our divorce, but not with him- he wants her to go to his mom's house to visit for the holidays. His mom lives out of state and wants to pick her up and use HIS visitation as HER right to see our daughter. I've never denied visitation with her grandmother but lately some things have come up and we're not getting along. Can he use HIS visitation to force me to send her to his mom's house instead?

Brette's Answer: No. His visitation is for him to use. And since he hasn't seen her in 4 years, it is unreasonable for him to suddenly think he can exercise it as decided 4 years ago. I think you might want to talk to his mom yourself. It might be nice for your daughter to have a relationship with her grandmother, but this is not the way to go about it.

Does she have to go to her grandparents for visitation?

Angela's Question: My ex and I have been divorced since our daughter was 3 years old, and she is now 11. He has lived out of state since the divorce and we still live in the same area where my family & his family live. He is visiting less and less, but has his parents pick our daughter up for his visits and he does not come to see her. Our daughter has not liked going for years and even more so now. She has finally told him she did not want to go, but if needed too she would just like to visit with grandparents during the days and come home at night. He is now mad and has called his lawyer. I just would like for someone to tell me if she has to go to his parents when he does not come for visits?

Brette's Answer: Unless his parents have a grandparent visitation order, they technically have no rights. Your ex however does have rights. If your child does not wish to go, you would have to have your original order modified by the court. Her wishes would be considered and a guardian ad litem would be appointed.

I would caution you not to cut the grandparents out of the picture. If they decided to file for grandparent visitation, they could get an order giving them at least what they have now, since they have a continuing relationship with your child. It's always better to work this out amicably with them than to go to court. Why not try to talk to them about how your daughter feels? Try to work out a compromise for the time they spend with her. Also check out Handling Grandparents Visitation Rights for more tips.

If he has no visitation rights, can the grandparents allow contact?

Nicole's Question: The judgment says my ex isn't allowed visitation. I do let my son visit my ex's parents at their home. My ex will be released from jail and I worry that his mother will allow him to see our son behind my back at her home. If this happens, this will be considered a violation of the order won't it?

Brette's Answer: That would be a violation. You could talk to the grandmother and explain to her that visitation would be a violation of the court order.

He allows our son to stay at my ex-mother-in-law’s home unsupervised.

Alyssa's Question: My son's father is the primary custodial parent. It is specifically court ordered that my ex-mother-in-law cannot be around my son unless it is supervised. I have recently been made aware that my son's father is allowing my son (age 8) to go to her house for days at a time with only his 13 year old cousin there. Is this legal?

Brette's Answer: You can file for violation and enforcement of the order. 

What if her grandparents don't supervise her during visitation?

Ashley's Question: My ex and I verbally agreed on visitation for our child. The majority of the time, the child is with the grandparents. I have witnessed the grandparents letting the child, who is 2, run around a store unsupervised. I feel that they are putting my child's life in danger. What rights do I have when it comes to this?

Brette's Answer: There's not much you can do without some conflict. The best thing might be to try to talk to you ex and express your concerns. If he won't listen and you completely believe your child's life is in danger, then you could file for custody.

What if he drops our daughter off with his family during visitation?

Rachel's Question: If I have sole physical custody, and when he has visitation, can I make it so that he has to spend that time with her and him not pawn her off on his family?

Brette's Answer: The problem is this is a fine line. It is acceptable for him to take your daughter to visit his family during his time - when else would she see them? It's not ok for her to spend all the visitation period every single time with them and not him. You can request a modification to specify that the majority of time is to be spent with him.

Should visitation be altered if he isn't spending time with our kids?

Question: My ex recently got visitation rights every other weekend. I noticed some things that I packed for my daughter over at his uncle's house and was given the impression that the kids spent the night with him. What can I do to get my ex to spend time with his children instead of pawning them off on his uncle? There is also drug use at his Mom's house. My son has even demonstrated how you take a blunt and roll it up and then smoke it. I have temporary custody of the kids as for right now, and there is a restraining order on him. How will this impact custody of the kids?

Brette's Answer: What you've shared is definitely concerning. I think you need to file a motion to have visitation altered. If he is not actually spending time with your daughter, then he needs to be ordered that visitation time is to be spent with him. The smoking incident is a serious problem. You need to ask to have a law guardian or guardian ad litem appointed to look into this situation and report back to the court. It sounds like you need a full hearing where you can call witnesses and present evidence. You are going to need people to come in and testify to this. For example, his uncle will need to be subpoenaed about whether the child is staying with him during visitation.

Can I request he take my other child for visits even if she isn't his?

M's Question: My 3 year old daughter doesn't want to go with her dad unless her half-sister goes. In the past she would go, but now he says "no she's not mine", which I understand. But he has been in her life since she was 3 and now she's 8. Can I request that he take her once in a while to make her little sister feel comfortable?

Brette's Answer: He has no obligation to your oldest child and no court could require him to take her on visits. If you can talk with him and work this out on your own, that would be great.

Can I stop my ex from taking our daughter around his other child?

Sara's Question: Can I prohibit my Ex from taking my daughter to see his other daughter (my daughter's step sister) during visitation time?

Brette's Answer: You can't, but if there are serious concerns you should talk with your attorney about them.

How is visitation handled if he’s threatened to hurt his step sister?

Elle's Question: My parents are in the middle of a divorce, and we have many concerns about my 11 year old step brother and my toddler sister being together every other weekend. My step brother has said many times that he’s wanted to hurt her and even got CPS involved by falsely accusing someone in our family of sexually assaulting him. Is there anything we can do to try to prevent my young sister from being with my step brother on weekends spent with their father?

Brette's Answer: Visitation could be arranged so they are never in the same home at the same time. The best solution is counseling to deal with the underlying issues and treat the problem.

Do siblings have visitation rights?

Kris's Question: My dad has been divorced from his ex for many years. They decided it was better on the kids if he didn't see them ever again, so I do not know my half siblings. I am trying to find them and it seems to me there are probably rights of the divorced adult children. Am I correct?

We have found my dad's ex. I thought perhaps if I was aware of the laws governing divorce in her state and governing the children I might have some leverage with her if I do decide to contact her. Could she do something legal against us for trying to contact her or her kids?

Brette's Answer: The sibling relationship is an important one. Few states have laws that automatically give rights to siblings, though. You can read about the few that do here: https://www.divorcesource.com/research/dl/visitation/97may85.shtml.

The problem in your case is that you have absolutely no relationship with these children at all, since you say you've never met them. In a situation where you already established a bond, a court would be much more likely force visitation.

I think the best way to handle this would be to contact their mother in a friendly and non-threatening way and say you would like the opportunity to know them. If you call her up and start quoting legal precedents, you're going to put her on the defensive. Instead, call and be non-threatening. Make it clear you don't want to intrude or make things difficult, that you're not involved in whatever happened between her and your father, and would like a chance to get to know your siblings. The friendly approach is the way to go with this one.

Is there any way I can see my half-sisters?

Kortni's Question: I have moved out of my mother's house to come live with my father. I am 18 and she will not let me see my two half-sisters. Is there any legal way to see them?

Brette's Answer: You could file a petition in family court for sibling visitation. This is a tricky area and it will depend on whether or not there is precedent in your jurisdiction.

Visitation without court orders

How can I get my son back if there are no custody orders?

Joyce's Question: My ex took our son on vacation and never returned him. I found out they are living in Fl. There were never any legal papers concerning custody. I was told he can do this. If I want him I can go get him. Is there a form I can file to get him back?

Brette's Answer: It sounds like you don't have a custody order at all, so you need to file for custody. Until you have a custody order, you both have equal rights to the children. You can either go to your local family court or check the state court web site. The information you need can be found there. You're looking for a petition or a complaint (it's called different things in different states). Then if he violates it, you take him back to court for violating your custody order. You also have something to show the police should he refuse to give them back to you. You don't need an attorney in family court.

Can he stop me from seeing my daughter if there is no court order?

Samantha's Question: If there is no court order in place, can one parent stop the other one from seeing the child (my daughter's father is refusing to allow me to contact her. I have been her primary care giver since birth, we have a parenting plan which he has gone against, but it was not lodged with the court)?

Brette's Answer: If there is no order of custody, each parent has an equal right to the child. You need to file an emergency petition for custody to gain immediate access it sounds like.

Can he set the visitation schedule if there are no court orders?

Gina's Question: We're separated and he told me that a judge will not decide visitation. He takes her every weekend and he keeps telling me that he will take her away from me if I do not turn her over every weekend. Please help me to understand. How can he take here away from me?

Brette's Answer: Stop listening to your husband. Go to court and get an order of custody and visitation setting out a fair schedule. It's not up to him - it's up to the court. I would also suggest you stop allowing visitation every weekend since all you're doing is setting a precedent for how visitation will continue. Good luck.

Can I control visitation if there are no custody orders?

Jess's Question: My daughter is 2 and her father's name is on the birth certificate. We have never been married and there are no custody papers, but I allow him to see her whenever he wants. He is falling back into old drug habits, and I have been told I can limit his visitation to the amount of time that I feel is in my daughter's best interest and/ or limit the visitations to supervised visits. What should I do in this situation?

Brette's Answer: You need to get an order of sole custody so that you can protect yourself. You both have rights to your child at this point and without a court order, you have a problem if he takes her and refuses to bring her home since he is also her legal parent.

What are my rights if there are no visitation orders?

Nicole's Question: I have sole custody of my 5-year old daughter. Her father pays child support, but did not request any visitation rights. Since her birth he has seen her less than eight times. Just recently he has taken an interest in seeing her. I've stipulated rules: let's start slowly with supervised visits, stick to scheduled times, etc. After only three visits, he now wants overnight visitation. He lives three hours away in a one-bedroom apartment. He is also demanding I meet him half-way for the exchange and also grant his parents additional visitation rights. What are my rights?

Brette's Answer: If there is no order giving him visitation, then legally he has none. It's up to him to go to court and ask for it. That being said, I think it's good you've been trying to work this out. Your daughter does need to have a relationship with him. It sounds like he's really making it difficult. Your rules sound reasonable to me. It needs to start slowly and he's got to be on time and show up when he's supposed to. If he doesn't agree to your terms, it's up to him to petition the court for a visitation order. Good luck.

Should my boyfriend be seeing his kids every day of the week?

Kelly's Question: My boyfriend has told his wife he wants a divorce, but he continues to go to her house every time his girls cry for him. They are only 4 and 6. Am I being selfish or is he wrong to run there every day of the week?

Brette's Answer: The kids are at a vulnerable age right now and the separation is probably difficult for them. If he wants to be an involved father, it's good that he's willing to make time for them when they need him (although he should not let it become a situation where his kids call all the shots). It's also a good idea since it will help him obtain a better parenting arrangement if he shows he wants to be involved.

Have they come to spend time at your house or wherever he is living? That should be part of the transition. As they become more accustomed to seeing him somewhere else, the separation anxiety should ease. I think you need to be careful not to frame this as a choice between you and his kids, because I can guarantee you will lose. Instead, why not try to be supportive? Invite them over, get to know them and try to become a part of their lives. This difficult time will pass if everyone can have some patience. Getting to know the wife and developing a civil relationship with her is also a good idea. Good luck.

Enforcing the Visitation Schedule

What can I do if he doesn't return the kids after visitation?

Question: My ex and I have 50/50 custody and the children reside with me, but he regularly only takes the two oldest ones for visitation. This was his weekend, but now my ex is telling me he's not giving back my children and that he's taking me to court. What can I do?

Brette: If your custody order specifies a schedule, he has to return them. If he doesn't you can call the police or you can go to family court for enforcement. If your order does not specify a schedule, then you need to get a court-ordered schedule set so it can be enforceable.

Will my custody papers be enforced if he threatens to keep our son?

Theresa's Question: My son is 3 years old, and I have sole physical custody. His father takes him for 4 weeks each summer and lives 5 states away. He is threatening not to give him back. Will my divorce decree and custody papers be enforced in another state?

Brette's Answer: Yes they will be enforced. Based on that threat, you can seek to have his visitation reduced.

What can I do if my teenager refuses to come home from visitation?

Cindy's Question: I have sole custody of our 17 year old son. My ex of 3 years has visitation and is letting our son run around all hours of the night with no supervision. My son went to visit his dad four months ago, and refuses to come back home. What can I do, and how can I keep my son at my house. My ex lives only 2 miles away.

Brette's Answer: At age 17 there is not an awful lot you can do. Even if you go to court for violating the order and the judge orders your ex to bring him back, making your son stay is difficult. You can try going back to court if you want to try something.

How can I enforce my scheduled visitation?

Annie's Question: My ex hasn't been following the decree and won't let me see my kids for the 12 days a month I am allowed by the decree. How do I legally to enforce this?

Brette's Answer: File for enforcement and violation of the order. Custodial interference like this can also be grounds for a change in custody. For best results, talk to an attorney.

What if he's demanding more visitation than the court orders?

Monica's Question: Before our court hearing, I tried to reach an agreement with my ex but he wouldn't agree. At court "for the stability of the little girl" the judge gave me sole custody on a temporary basis while a parental evaluation is done. The judge also ordered us to work together on an agreement regarding parenting time and if we did not agree, visitation would be every other weekend from Friday 6pm until Monday morning. Since he is not working during the mornings, he is demanding that I drive my baby daily to his house in addition to what the judge ordered (every other weekend). So now, she will spend 50% of the time with him. What can I do?

Brette Answers: Here's the problem about the way you're looking at this. HE doesn't get to tell YOU how this is going to work out. The judge has already clearly said if you can't agree, you're going to get a visitation schedule dictated by law. It doesn't sound like you're agreeing, so that's all you're required to comply with right now.

I am all for cooperating, compromising and making time for both parents, but you've been bending over backwards here and it has to stop. You've got to play some hard ball now. It sounds to me as if you're ok with an arrangement that has her with him instead of daycare when he's not working - and that is terrific. It's always better for a child to be with a parent than at daycare. However, you're letting him manipulate you. Put your foot down and say you will not agree to his requirement that you drive. The judge is on your side here. Tell him exactly what you will agree to and remind him that if he does not agree, he's only going to get the minimum visitation. He'll see the error of his ways pretty quickly. Good luck.

What if he refuses to take our child just to be spiteful?

Tecla's Question: I have three children. My oldest is 20 and lives with her Dad, my middle child, 17 lives with me as does my 13 year old. My 13 year old is at his Dad's for the summer. My 17 year old prefers to stay with me. I am going out of town for two weeks and my ex has known about this for two months. He stated that he will not take my 17 year old at all for the two weeks. I don't know what to do? I have no one to watch her and he just told me two days before my trip!!! I am hurting so much for my 17 year old...I would never tell her that her father refuses for her to come over while the other two children are at his house...Help!

Brette's Answer: I suggest you talk with him to find out what the problem is - it might be something that can be solved. Your 20 year old is old enough to provide supervision, so maybe that is the answer. Or perhaps she could find a friend to stay with? There are lots of possible solutions.

What if he filed court papers saying I violated the visitation order?

Koal's Question: After out divorce, my ex would have visitation when he felt like seeing the kids. But he hasn't seen them in 2 years and the youngest has NO idea who he is. He has a very long abusive record, and at this point I am terrified for my kids to be with him. He has filed papers saying I'm in violation of a court order saying I DON'T let him see them. That's not true at all because he hasn't asked to see them in 2 years. What should I do?

Brette's Answer: Tell the judge the truth. Ask for a law guardian to be appointed to represent the children.

What can I do if he's alleging that I denied visitation?

Paige's Question: My husband's attorney is filing a contempt of court saying I denied visitation, which is not true. He did not show up, and this is documented. What can I do to prove my openness to the visits?

Brette's Answer: If you have any witnesses - people who were there when he didn't show up, they could testify for you. What you need to be careful about is the fact that his not showing up doesn't quite prove your case. He could be alleging you told him not to come and therefore he did not. It's going to hinge on what evidence he has. This is going to come down to a he said she said situation and the judge is going to decide who is more believable. If you can show a pattern of him missing visits, that would be helpful. If you can show via a calendar or journal that you were home waiting for him for each visit, that would help. You can tell the judge how important you believe visitation is and how think it is important for your kids to have a relationship with their father and that you would never stand in the way of that.

Medical Concerns During Visitation

Can I cancel visitation if my son is sick and has diarrhea?

Sandy's Question: My son has picked up fever and diarrhea and he doesn't feel well. Can I cancel his Sunday visit with his Dad due to him being really sick?

Brette's Answer: Illness is a reason to cancel visitation.

Can the custodial parent decide who visits the child in the hospital?

Maria's Question: My boyfriend's daughter is very sick and will have to be in the hospital for a while. Since her mom has sole custody she often threatens my boyfriend about him not being allowed to see her at the hospital. Can the custodial parent decide who can visit child while admitted into a hospital?

Brette's Answer: It sounds like the daughter is a minor, and in that case, it is up to her custodial parent. I would suggest trying to talk with the mom in a calm and reasonable way and suggest some short visits.

What visitation rights does a parent have if a child is hospitalized?

Amanda's Question: Both parents are legal guardians with mom being custodial for schooling purposes. Father was granted limited visitation every other weekend from Saturday to Sunday with no weekday visitations. If a child is hospitalized does the father have to stay within his visitation schedule or can he visit whenever he wants?

Brette's Answer: Technically unless the order states otherwise visitation does not change, but it would be reasonable to allow the parent more access during this time.

Can I limit visitations to no overnights for medical concerns?

Gale's Question: My husband and I are legally separated. We agreed to joint custody with me being the custodial parent. He never believed our preemie daughter has asthma or our other daughter was allergic to eggs (dr. confirmed). He refuses to take the kids to the doctor and has repeatedly not given the inhalers that have been prescribed. Can I limit visitations to no overnights for medical concerns? What options are there for me? I have doctor's stating our children have medical concerns.

Brette's Answer: I think you are right to be concerned. I think you'll need a Doctor to testify and provide proof of what has happened in some of these instances. No overnight visitation makes sense given the situation. Good luck.

Who is responsible for supplying medications during visitation?

Lyn's Question: If my child requires Asthma medication and is on his father's insurance (who has primary custody), does the father provide me with medication on weekend visits or do I have to get insurance to get the medication as well?

Brette's Answer: The asthma medication should be sent with the child and is covered by the father's insurance.

Am I obligated to send the kid's medications if we alternate weeks?

Sarah's Question: After being divorced for several years, my ex is just now exercising his rights to see our children on an alternating schedule of one week on and one week off. According to our decree, he is required to carry health insurance on our kids. Since he never complied, I have provided the coverage and have paid all premiums, co pays and prescription fees on my own. None of which he has reimbursed. Both of our children have chronic conditions that require medications daily. One of which is life threatening if not given. Am I obligated to send the children's medications with them on his weeks?

Brette's Answer: The way to handle this is to file for enforcement/violation of the support order requiring him to provide the health insurance. It would not be a good idea to refuse to send medication with your children.

What if he's not trained to handle allergic reactions?

Heather's Question: We found out last month our 2 year old daughter is allergic to eggs and peanuts. The father was ordered to go to her doctor's appointment, but didn't. Since he did not come, he was not trained or taught the signs. I was told to get two sets of Epi pens; one for daycare and one for home. He wants me to provide my set for him. I don't want to, because he is so irresponsible, and what if he doesn't give them back.

Brette's Answer: It is dangerous for your child to be with him if he does not know how to treat her or use the medication. You need to consult with your attorney.

Can I stop visitation until he is medically trained to care for her?

Kristina's Question: I have sole custody of my 3 year old daughter, who has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and is not verbal or walking at this point. Her CP causes her many medical problems and requires special care. Every time she comes home from visitation, she has bruises (once even fingerprint bruises on her thigh) or her G tube site is raw and red. I have called DCFS and the police but they have said that due to that fact that she can't talk, it can't be proven who did it. My question is what motion can I file to stop visitation until he is medically trained and what proof do I need?

Brette's Answer: You need to keep a journal and take photos with a time/date stamp if possible showing the problems. You should file as soon as possible (as soon as you have some evidence) and ask for a temporary order halting visitation.

What can I do if he gives her foods that trigger her allergies?

Michaela's Question: I have primary physical custody of our child but he has visitation. When he has over-nights at his house, he feeds her berries which she is allergic to. She gets very sick and has red dots all over her body from eating the berries. Is there anything I can do to protect my daughter while she's at her dad's house?

Brette's Answer: Yes. Go to court and ask to have the visitation plan modified to include a provision that he must make his home berry-free. You should take a photo of the allergic reaction she is having. You can also get more ideas by checking out special food diets and visitation.

Can visitation be modified if he's always sick after being at his dad's?

Jennifer's Question: Can I take my ex back to court to have visitation modified if the only proof of medical neglect I have is that my son is always more sickly when he comes back from his dads? My ex ignores food allergies, doesn't give allergy medicine to my son, and keeps allergens in his home (a cat). It is my word against his that our son is not receiving his medicine (and of course the physical evidence of runny nose, ear infections, and break outs from allergens, but he attributes all these to germs from daycare).

Brette's Answer: I think you need to get some medical evidence to back this up. Take your son to the doctor after each visit and see what the doctor thinks. It is possible the stress of the transition is what is affecting his health - some kids do not manage transitions well. You can also get more ideas by checking out Co-parenting and Child Health Issues.

How can I insure he takes better care of the kids during visitation?

Tiffany's Question: My son has come home for the second time with water blisters on his face due to sunburn. I sent sun-block and even sent a reminding text to his father about applying the sun-block. How can I ensure he takes better care of my kids when he has them?

Brette's Answer: Take a photo. If it happens again, it has become a pattern and is a problem. You could go back to court and get visitation reduced or at least get a warning from the judge to him not to let it happen again. If it continues you could also contact child protective services and it could be the basis of a neglect case against him. You need to decide how far you want to take this.

Inconsistent Visitation

What if my ex keeps letting my son down?

Wanda's Question: My ex often doesn't show up for visitation and doesn't call our son. He said that he doesn't show up because our son has an attitude with him. What's worse is that he won't answer the phone when my son calls him, and won't return my son's calls. What can I do so that it doesn't affect my son?

Brette's Answer: I know that it is hard to deal with this kind of thing when you think your ex is being a jerk, but as you've seen, this kind of situation is difficult for your son. I would suggest you ask your ex to meet you for coffee. Sit down together in a friendly way and try to find out what the problem is. Is the visitation time inconvenient? Is there a better time? Have he and your son had problems? Try to get to the root of the problem then try to find a solution that will work for both of you.

Can I keep the kids away from him if he doesn't use visitation?

Stephanie's Question: The girls are supposed to go to their fathers every other weekend. Lately he is coming up with excuses for not taking them. If I just keep them away from him will I get in trouble?

Brette's Answer: You have to make them available for the scheduled visitation. If it gets to the point where he does not exercise it at all or very rarely, you can petition the court to modify the order.

What if he always cancels visitation at the last minute?

Eva's Question: My ex and I have been trying to work out the every other weekend thing, but he commonly calls the night before HIS weekend to say that he has to work late (voluntary over time) and can't take the kids. This isn't fair and I always have to change my plans to accommodate him. Can I tell him he can't get the kids until the court hands down the schedule since he is dictating visitation at his convenience?

Brette's Answer: I think you should have a calm and non-confrontational discussion with him about what you just told me. Explain to him that you have plans also and it's not fair for him to call you the night before with a schedule change. Set up a rule about schedule changes - agree they must be made 3 days in advance (or whatever works for you). Stopping visitation is not the answer - you're punishing your children then for his stupidity. Instead, try to set up some guidelines you can both follow. Tell him that visitation is very important and you really want to make it work.

His new job makes our visitation schedule unpredictable.

Rebecca's Question: Our son has visited his Dad every Wednesday night and every other weekend for the past 3 years. My ex now has a new job with an unpredictable work schedule and often has to cancel Wednesday nights at the last minute. He is often late for pick-ups, and is unpredictable about drop-off times. He calls last minute for a visit, and then is 2 hours late picking my son up. I want to work with my Ex, but it is tough on both me and my son. I can't plan weekends, holidays or vacations in advance. How do I get my son back on a schedule without blocking a relationship with his father?

Brette's Answer: I can understand your frustration. Maybe the way to do this is to schedule visits regularly and if he is working, the visit is cancelled, rather than giving you a last minute notice that there is going to be one. At least this way you would know your son will definitely be home on certain days and may be gone on others. The lateness is a problem though and I would suggest you talk to him about that. He needs to stick to the schedule and if you can't work that out on your own or in mediation, you'll have to go back to court and have the court tell him.

Can he pick them up and drop them off whenever he feels like it?

Question: We have a temporary visitation court order. It states he has kids from 4-8 on Tues and Thurs and every other weekend from 5 on Friday to 5 on Sunday. Out of the 6 weeks so far, he has only had them 4 of the Tuesdays and Thursdays and he was late getting them every time. He never calls, he just never shows up. He has never had them on his weekend; however he always tries to get them for a "short time" during Saturday. He thinks that if it "his weekend" he can pick them up and dropped them off whenever he feels like it. Am I legally obligated to let him pick them up at a later time when he just "shows up"? Advise please...

Brette's Answer: No. Sounds like you need to go back to court to get the order modified to reflect what is actually happening. It's not healthy for the kids to sit around waiting for him all the time.

What can you do if your ex doesn't fulfill his visitation requirements?

Anne's Question: What do you do when an ex won't fulfill his visitation requirements? He never sees the children, even though two different children therapists have met with him to stress the importance of structure. He only wants them when it suits him, and of course to take them 2 weeks in the summer to visit grandparents they only see once a year. He is now refusing to allow me to take them on any type of trip anywhere! My lawyer tells me that he is holding me hostage and I need to take him back to court. She also says that there is no way to force him to fulfill his visitation.

Brette's Answer: Your lawyer is right. You can't force someone to use their visitation time. It sounds like you have bent over backwards to try to get him to stay involved and it's unfortunate that it hasn't worked. You're a good parent for trying to keep him involved in your kids' lives. I agree that you can't let him dictate what you do. You should be allowed to travel with your children and the court would certainly allow that. As to whether or not he should be able to take the kids to visit his parents, you need to do what you think is best. It's good for children to know their grandparents, but this kind of once a year contact can be difficult. What does the therapist think about it? I would want to get that information before making a decision if I were you. Going back to court is always difficult for children, but it sounds like the current situation is also difficult for everyone.

What can I do if he's not following the visitation schedule?

Natasha's Question: We’ve had a custody order for over 2 years and he has slowly been decreasing time with his daughter. He is supposed to pick her up every other Thursday at 5:30 pm and drop her off at 5:30 pm on that Sunday. He thinks it’s okay if he picks her up on Friday instead of Thursday, or if he only wants her Saturday and Sunday. In the last 2 months he has refused to get her 1 weekend, refused to pick her up Thursday and Friday for 1 weekend, and 1 weekend he didn’t show up at our meeting spot. Do I still let him get her whenever he wants, or does he lose visitation if he doesn’t get her on his Thursday at 5:30 pm? Also, can he pick up my daughter if neither he nor his girlfriend have a driver’s license?

Brette's Answer: The first thing I would ask you is if your daughter likes to spend time with her dad. If so, it's a good idea that you find a way to continue the contact. That being said, you can't force someone to use their visitation time, but you can enforce the pick-up and drop off times. If he's regularly not using the full time, you can go to court and get it modified to a shorter time. Your daughter would still get to see him, but it would likely be less disruptive for all of you since he will have a small time frame to use. If he shows up at a time that's not his pick-up time and he has not made arrangements (with you agreeing), in most states, you do not need to send your child. You are required to make your child available at the times stated in the order only.   

The driver's license situation is an issue. In most states, you do not have to let your child go in a car with an unlicensed driver (if you are certain the person driving does not have one). You can go to court and modify your order so it clearly states she must be picked up in a car with a licensed driver.  Talk to your attorney to get information about your state laws and how best to proceed with modifying your order. 

Visitation with an Absent Parent

Is the visitation order still in effect if he hasn't seen our child for years?

Darlene's Question: My ex and I have joint custody of our 5 year old daughter. When she turned 1, my ex stopped wanting anything to do with her. Recently he sent me a message saying since he is paying child support that he wants to see her. He expects me to leave my daughter with him when she doesn't even know him. What are my rights since he has not had any contact with my daughter in over 4 and half years? Is the old court order still in effect?

Brette's Answer: It is unless you seek to modify it. So that's what you should do. You can file for a modification of the existing order based on the situation as it has existed. You need a gradual reintroduction here. I strongly advise you consult with an attorney to explore these options.

How do I handle visitation if my 9 month old doesn't know her Dad?

Amelia's Question: I have a 9 month old baby and her father just now started to contact me. He lives 5-7 hours away from me and he wants visitation. She has never seen her father and need to know the best way to handle this.

Brette's Answer: It's usually best to start visitation slowly. With a baby this young, visitation would normally start in your home, so you could show him how to care for her and help her feel comfortable. It would gradually increase to a few hours and then eventually to an overnight. And then gradually to alternate weekends.

Do I have to allow visitation if he hasn't seen our son for 7 months?

Pam Asks: I was awarded sole custody of my 2 year old son this spring. He never sticks to any arranged visitation we set up and he has not seen his son in 7 months. Now he wants me to "hand our son over" when it is convenient for him. Do I have to let him visit our son?

Brette's Answer: If there is no indication in the order about visitation, you're not required to do anything. However, I would caution you against denying all contact since parental alienation can be justification for a change in custody. Instead, try to work out some short visits at a time and place you feel comfortable with.

How do I help my child understand her father's absence?

Darlene's Question: My daughter is almost 5 years old and she has not seen her dad in almost a year now and really misses him. How do I let her understand that even though that her dad does not call or come and visit with her, that he may still love her? I want to let her know that I am here for her and I will not leave her side. How do I explain to my daughter the best I can that she is not alone even though she does not see her dad.

Brette's Answer: I know you're in a tough position and I think it's wonderful you want to help your daughter through this. You're on the right track. You have to tell her that he loves her and she is important to him, but there may be reasons neither of you know about that are preventing him from visiting her. Don't make anything up, but be honest that you just don't know why. Tell her it is not her fault and she has not done anything that is keeping him away. Remain positive when you talk about him as much as possible and stress that sometimes adults have problems that happen in their lives that take time to work through. Tell her how important she is to you and how much you love her. It might help her to see a therapist. In the end, this is going to be an issue she has to work through and if he ever reappears it will be on his shoulders (don't tell her that of course).

What are my kid's rights if their father has been absent for 6 years?

Crystal's Question: Ex-husband has not visited his children for six years. He does pay child support. He is now claiming I kept him from the children, yet they go to the same school as his other children do, and his mother visits them on a regular basis. The children are 14 & 16 and do not want to visit him because he is a stranger to them. What legal rights do the children have?

Brette's Answer: Unfortunately the system is not built around what the children's rights are. If he hasn't visited in 6 years yet his mother does and he has access to the children, he's put himself in a pickle. The kids are old enough that what they want will be very important to the court. It sounds to me as if he doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Can I prevent the visit if he hasn't seen our son for over 2 years?

Shannon's Question: It has been 2 1/2 years since my 4 year old son has seen his father. His father calls out of the blue and wants to see him. What should I do and is there anything I can do to stop him? He pays child support off and on, but I would gladly give it up.

Brette's Answer: Your son needs to have a relationship with his father. He hasn't seen him for 2 years, yet it sounds like your ex has attempted to make contact and you have discouraged him. The more he sees him, the stronger their bond will be. I would suggest you encourage your ex to come spend some time with your son at your home or that of a relative, so that they can become reacquainted with each other. Encourage your ex to make regular visits. Explain to him how important it is for your son to have a father in his life.

If you drive him away, you will one day have to answer to your son. At some point he is going to want to know his father and will find him on his own. His father may then tell him that you kept them apart. That's a tough one to explain.

Would he get visitation without the kids knowing him first?

Danielle's Question: I have 3 children ages 10, 9 and 5. My ex hasn't seen the older 2 since Christmas five years ago and he has never seen the youngest. He is threatening to take me to court for visitation because his child support is going up. I don't mind if he sees the kids but I want it to be supervised first for a while. Would they just give him my kids without them knowing him first?

Brette's Answer: I think what you want is a gradual visitation program. Start with him coming to your home for an hour. Then make it two hours. Then leave them alone (go for a walk or in another room). Work up to him taking them out to lunch then to his place and so on.

How is visitation handled when the kids don't know their father?

Amy's Question: My daughter is six and my ex never tried to have visitation with her in the past. Now all of a sudden, he wants to start having her every other weekend, split holidays, and one evening a week. He lives 2 hours away, and she doesn't know him at all. How likely is it that the judge will let him start having her every other weekend?

Brette's Answer: The judge will look at the entire situation, including his relationship with her and make a decision based on that. In general, it is a good thing for children to have relationships with their fathers; however I can understand your concern about too much too soon. If you are concerned, you need to be prepared to show he has no real relationship with her. If you have concerns about his ability to care for her, you need to share those. You should request that a Law Guardian or Guardian ad litem be assigned to the case. This is an attorney who will represent your daughter and give the court her perspective.

It's likely the court would order a gradually increasing schedule that would allow her to get to know him over a period of time. For example, overnights would not make sense for many months. In situations like this you would want to start visitation gradually, with you present if possible. If you can show her that you are willing to accept him, she may be more willing to. It takes time to build a relationship and everyone has to be patient. She is not going to accept him immediately but she's young and there is time for them to get to know each other. Children adapt more quickly than you might expect however, so a few visits like this should be sufficient. Then I would do some visits at his home for a few hours and gradually increase them.

My daughter just met her real Dad and is afraid to visit him.

Jessica's Question: My 10 year old daughter just met her biological father 5 months ago, and they are attending supervised visitations. My daughter does not want to continue seeing him because she is scared of him and want no contact with him. What advice can you give me?

Brette's Answer: If I were the Law Guardian in your case, I would want to find out why she is afraid of him. What has happened? Is this due to something that happened in visitation or is it a reaction to the way that you feel about the visitation? I would recommend some therapy sessions to get to the bottom of it and possibly bring Dad into the sessions to try to develop a healthy relationship.

There's no question that suddenly meeting your father at age 10 and then going to a strange place for supervised visits is going to be really difficult for a child. That however, is not enough of a reason to cancel the visitation. Instead, you need to find a way to help her through it. I really think therapy is the answer. It takes time to develop a relationship with a parent you've never met before. You should talk to him about this and find a way to work together to make things better for her. Good luck.

Does my son have to visit his dad if there's been no contact for years?

Angela's Question: I separated from my son's father due to his drinking and drug abuse when my son was 2 years old. Initially, he had some contact with our son, but it was always sporadic. I have since moved and am in a relationship with another man who he calls dad. In my son's own words, my ex is his biological father and my new partner is his real dad because he does things with him and is here for him all the time. Last week I got a letter basically asking for contact with my son and offering to start paying child support. My son is 12 years old and he said he did not want to see his dad. What should I do?

Brette's Answer: There are several considerations. First of all, your son's wishes are important and because of his age, they will be considered by the court. As the parent though, you need to think about your son's future and what the implications are for him to have no relationship with his biological father. This is often detrimental for children. It's important to understand that the bond your son has with your partner is wonderful and sounds so healthy for him, but having some contact with his biological father won't impact that. He can continue to have that bond and still have some kind of contact with his biological father.

If you and your son do not want any contact, you need to hire an attorney and go to court and present your case. It's likely the judge will talk to your son to get his input. The court will make a decision that is in the best interest of your son. Courts generally do not suspend all visitation rights unless there is a serious emotional or physical danger to the child. I'm very concerned about the substance abuse issue, and this is something you definitely need to bring up in court. If he is still addicted, it may not be safe for your child to be with him.

I understand how difficult it is to feel like a man has completely abandoned you and your child and left the entire child-rearing to you, and then to have him suddenly show up and want to be involved. It can feel very frustrating and can seem like a huge imposition. You're right to be angry and upset, but as a parent you need to think about your son and his needs. It's also normal for your son to feel abandoned and angry, but you can't change the fact that this man is his father. At some point your son will need to confront that and deal with it. He deserves the chance to know this man and to make an educated decision about whether he wants him in his life.

If you end up with court-ordered visitation, I highly recommend that your son see a counselor. No matter how this turns out, he is going to need help dealing with his mixed emotions.

Do I have to allow visitation if he didn't follow the re-introduction plan?

S's Question: My daughter just met her father after 13 years. We now have a visitation plan in order and he's supposed to visit her in our town 4 times before she's allowed to go to the state where he lives for four weeks. He hasn't made any of the visits here and he wants me to send her down. Would I get in trouble by not following the visitation plan?

Brette's Answer: If the plan was set up that he must visit her first, and he hasn't, then he's the one who has screwed it up.

Should I allow my son to see his dying Dad after no visits for years?

Cathy's Question: My ex-husband is supposedly dying; court orders are that my ex is supposed to do supervised visitation, but he hasn't followed through on this in years. Our son is 16. What do I do--deny my ex-husband, or give my son a chance to see his father before his father dies? Please note that my ex-husband has threatened me in the past when I tried to work with him.

Brette's Answer: The first issue would be your son's safety. If he would be safe, then this really should be up to him. He is old enough to decide.

Can he regain visitation rights after he lost them 6 years ago?

Tanya's Question: My 15 yr. old daughter doesn't want to have visitation with biological father. His visits were taken away 6 years ago and he is asking for visits again. What age can she voice her opinion on not going if court orders visits again?

Brette's Answer: You should make it clear before there is an order that she doesn't want to go. The court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent her. Part of your response should be that the child does not wish to go and is a teenager. I can't predict what will happen, but in general courts try to maintain a relationship between a father and his children. If he got any visitation it would be slow and gradual.

Changing Visitation

Is visitation thru Monday morning wise if he lives 2 hours away?

Anna's Question: My ex relocated almost 2 hours away. He used to see our son two times a week for 3 hours and every other weekend from Friday night to Sunday at 6pm. Now he is asking to spend midweek overnight with our son and pick him up on Friday and drop him off Monday morning. How is this going to affect our son? Another thing is that he wants his parents or girlfriend to pick our son up. Our son has regularly been picked up by his father even with this new relocation. I don't like changing what has been going on regularly. Do I have the right on this?

Brette's Answer: It will be up to the court to decide what will be allowed if you can't agree. You did not mention how old your son is and that is going to be a huge factor in this. If he is school age, I would say a Monday morning return is not a good idea. First of all, he's going to have to get up early to get to school and what if they get stuck in traffic. You want your son to sleep at home the night before school when possible, so a Sunday evening return makes more sense. In that same vein, I don't think a midweek overnight visit is smart either for the same reasons.

If your son is not school age yet, there can be more flexibility about this. He's essentially asking to go from every other weekend to every weekend and that is not fair to you, so I would suggest sticking with every other weekend.

As for pick-ups, if you are comfortable with his parents driving, that seems like a good solution. The girlfriend is not as good of an answer since she's not permanent yet (they aren't married). I generally don't like to get non-relatives involved in custodial arrangements if it can be avoided.

Can he get a modification because I let him have extra visitation?

Amanda's Question: It is in our divorce papers that he gets to see our daughter every other weekend. But I allow him to have her every Thursday and every other weekend. He is now trying to bully me into giving up more of my days. If he takes me to court, is it likely that he'll receive more days?

Brette's Answer: It is likely the order would be updated to include the schedule you have been following. Whether more time would be granted would depend on what the court sees as in the best interest of your child.

Can I change the visitation schedule if I have the right to determine where my daughter lives?

G's Question: I got divorced a year ago, with a joint managing conservator's agreement and a 50/50 visitation split. I am the one however, with the right to determine where my daughter lives. Does that mean I can change that visitation schedule too?

Brette's Answer: No. They are two completely different things.

How can I get a better visitation schedule?

Carla's Question: I have been in and out of my son's life since he was little. His father was very abusive to me and I had no evidence of this except my mental state. When we divorced I didn't have a lawyer, so he received full custody and I pay child support. My visitation is only for 2 hours for 2 nights a week. Which I am uncomfortable with, considering he still yells at me and tells me I am worthless and doesn't think I should see my child. He lives 2 hours away from me as well and that's a very hard schedule to keep. I know I've messed up in the past, but I have to find a way to get better visitation.

Brette's Answer: You need to show a change in circumstances to get a change in visitation most of the time. So, showing that you are now more stable, better prepared to parent, and have improved your life since you were last in court are things you can offer. You could also take a parenting class, often offered free through state funded agencies, which would show your commitment and parenting ability. I agree that having visitation with your ex present is probably not a good idea. In the meantime, you could ask if there is someone else who could supervise, maybe a relative or friend. There are also some supervised visitation programs through organizations like the United Way that could help you.

Can I get more visitations without disclosing my medical condition?

Pam's Question: Can a judge order me to disclose my medical records if I want to extend my visitation with my son. I am on social security due to a viral meningitis attack I had 3 years ago. I do have a seizure disorder, but my visits are supervised by my spouse 100%. What argument can I use to object to the disclosure of my medical records? Our child is almost 6 years old.

Brette's Answer: If the reason your visitation was limited was due to your medical condition, then if you want to have the visitation changed, you most likely need to prove the medical situation is no longer an issue, which would mean you have to disclose them.

What is the correct way of changing the visitation percentage?

Angie's Question: My daughters stay with me 4 nights and with their dad 3 nights. Only 2 afternoons out of those 3 days are actually spent with him due to work. By Saturday at 3am he is gone to work. But he won't let me pick them up early even though he is not there? What will be the correct way of changing the percentage? By the days they stay at his place or the actual time he spends with them?

Brette's Answer: Include the actual schedule, not the percentage.

What forms do I need to revise the visitation schedule?

Chelsea's Question: I just wanted to know if there was a form I could fill out to revise the visitation schedule in our divorce decree.

Brette's Answer: Check with your family court office or their web site. You need to file a petition for modification.

Can he change visitation without a court order?

Josie's Question: My daughter has custody of her seven year old daughter and her ex sees her every Wed., every other Mon. and every other weekend. He now is telling his daughter that since he just rented a two bedroom house with an attic for a playroom that he feels it is fair that she lives one week at his house and one week at her mother's. Can he do this without the court order being changed?

Brette's Answer: No he may not alter the court ordered visitation unless the mother is in agreement. If he wants it changed, he has to go to court and request a modification. If he violates the court order by not returning the child she can call the police and/or file for a violation of the order.

Can I get in trouble for not going to court to modify visitation?

Latika's Question: My son is now 8 and I am the custodial parent. I remarried five years ago and two years ago we moved out of state for my husband to have a better job. My ex wasn't happy about the move, but he reluctantly agreed and did not file to stop me from moving. He has visitation rights every other weekend but I am unable to comply with those terms since I live 4 hours away. He still sees our son whenever we go back to that state and I try to give him holidays and summers. Can I get in trouble for not going to the court to modify visitation and do I still need to go back to the courts to get relocation and visitation modifications?

Brette's Answer: It is not breaking the law to do something different than the plan states if you both agree to it. It's always best to have an up-to-date order, but if your ex has complied so far you probably have nothing to worry about.

What can we do if the child is miserable due to visitation?

Jackie's Question: My husband and I have joint custody of our 10 year old great nephew. He has been at our home all of his life. At age 5 we went to court and got joint custody with the father. He gets him every weekend and in the summers. This child is miserable every time he has to go there. His mother is out of the picture. He has told us that he wishes sometimes he was dead. He only wants to stay here with us. Is there anything we can do?

Brette's Answer: You can petition to have the schedule modified. Maybe if he didn't have to go every single weekend and all summer he might be able to cope a little better. I also think you need to get this child into counseling. It is not normal for a 10 year old to wish he were dead. I am very concerned about him. Good luck.

Can visitation be changed if I have pay for all my child's expenses?

A's Question: I have had physical custody of my 7 year old daughter since she was 3 months old. My ex is against her playing sports and grudgingly brings her to the games when she's with him. But every year it is a big battle. He lives 2 hours away, so it's hard on our daughter and she does not want to go up and see him. She goes up every other weekend and we split holidays. He pays child support but does not help me with anything else. How can I go about changing the court order so she doesn't have to go up all the time? He doesn't want to be involved in anything his child is doing and is not even providing insurance and making me pay and handle everything.

Brette's Answer: If he pays his ordered child support that is his only financial responsibility. If you feel it is not enough, you can ask to have it modified upwards, or to include certain expenses. It's important for your daughter to maintain a relationship with him and just because the visitation is a hassle for you doesn't mean it isn't good for her. I suggest you talk to an attorney if you want to modify the plan because you will need a lot more than just a general dissatisfaction to convince the court.

Can visitation be decreased if I change my work schedule?

Macinzie's Question: When my ex & I split up, I suggested he have her Thursday, Friday & Saturday overnight because I work 10 hour night shifts on those nights, and figured that it was better for her to be with her father than with a babysitter while I worked. Now I am considering changing my work schedule to better accommodate my daughter's schedule, and I have also been with a wonderful man for about 8 months who we are moving in with soon. Plus he is willing to watch her while I work. I am wondering if I have a fair shot at decreasing visitation to one night a week. She is only 2 and I believe she needs a more stable primary home rather than feeling like she is always going back and forth. Also, his live-in fiancé has 2 autistic children and I do not want this to impact her negatively. What do I do?

Brette's Answer: I think you have a difficult fight if you want to change this. The fact that his girlfriend has autistic children does not mean that it is a negative situation for your daughter. You have to be able to show how the current situation is negatively affecting your child. The fact that you *could* change your work schedule is not enough. You probably would need to actually change it before you went to court. You also need to be moved in with your new boyfriend before anyone can evaluate what that situation is like. Courts don't like to disturb the status quo without a very good reason, so you really need to get your ducks in a row before asking for a change.

Can we change visitation to make up for losing the mid-week visit?

Lisa's Question: We see my step daughter every other weekend and every other Wednesday for dinner. My husband's ex got married and moved away. It is an hour and 1/2 one way drive for visitation. It is getting to be too much for my step daughter and for the adults to drive on Wednesday visits now. If we take out our Wednesday visits, what options do we have to make up for all this lost time? We are trying to work this out without lawyers but his ex likes to play the card that she gives us extra time which is not true. If she lets us pick her up an hour early she always says she gets to pick her up an hour early.

Brette's Answer: You could extend the current visits - pick her up on Friday night instead of Saturday and keep her till Sunday. Or add a few hours onto Saturday or Sunday. That seems to be a reasonable way to handle it. Increasing time over the summer or school breaks is another option. Keep a log so you can prove she's not giving you extra time now. Good luck.

My ex wants two weekends in a row to get back on schedule?

Michelle's Question: My ex has visitation rights for every other weekend. The weekends got switched during vacations and we are on a different schedule because of it. Now he wants them 2 weekends in a row to get on the old schedule. What rights do I have to stop him from doing this?

Brette's Answer: Here's how you need to think about this. If your previous switch in weekends meant you had the kids two weekends in a row, then letting him have them 2 weekends in a row now is just a way to even things out and make it fair.

Can we switch weekends for a special occasion?

Sabrina's Question: I have been divorced for three years now and he has been harassing me for the past year (since I got engaged). We agreed to switch weekends so my kids can be in my wedding, but not two weeks to go and he is threatening to kidnap them so they can't participate. What can I do to prevent this? He stated that if I try to keep them for the weekend he will charge me with kidnapping. I have physical custody and control and he just has visitation rights. Is it ok to still keep them like he agreed or can I get arrested?

Brette's Answer: It sounds like it would be a good idea to get any schedule changes in writing from now on. Since your order probably just says "alternate weekends" there's nothing wrong with you keeping the kids that weekend. If you're nervous about this, you can go to court and seek a temporary order permitting this. It sounds as if he's having a hard time dealing with your remarriage and is trying to use the kids as a weapon against you. You might want to reassure him that he will always be their father and that your new husband will not take his place in their lives.

Can he change the visitation schedule whenever he wants?

Debbie's Question: My husband thinks he can make me give up my plans because he wants to take the kids on different night than agreed to in the temporary order. He says that his lawyer told him that it was ok for him to just go ahead and do it. Can he?

Brette's Answer: If your court order specifies the times he is to have the children, you have to stick to it. Usually you can change that if you both agree - the key is that you both must agree. He can't unilaterally decide to change it. You need to document what is happening. Keep a calendar indicating what days he has had the kids and when his scheduled times are, so that if you need to go to court to straighten it out, you have proof of what has been happening.

School and Extracurricular Activities

Will the judge keep the original schedule due to the children being in school?

Christina's Question: We have joint legal custody and his parenting time during the school year is Fridays after school and every weekend. He wants the summer vacation plan all year in which is he gets them Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with alternating weekends. I think it would a hardship on the children to be bouncing back and forth. Will the judge consider staying on the regular schedule we had for the sake of the children being in school?

Brette's Answer: Your current order remains in effect unless and until the court modifies it. To change it, he usually would need to show a change in circumstances since the order was issued and then show that the change he's asking for is in the best interests of the children. The court looks at a lot of factors in making that decision. If children are doing well with a schedule, there's usually little reason to change it. If he files for modification, get an attorney who will help you make your case.  

Do visitation times change if school is out?

Jacqueline's Question: I have visitation with my daughter every weekend starting Friday after school until Sunday. Her dad said if she doesn't have school then there is no visit. Technically she is out of school at 2:40pm on Friday's. If she has no school, can I still pick her up at 2:40 pm?

Brette's Answer: It sounds like you should. Pick up would be at the time school ends.

What if he's refusing to take them to their extracurricular activities?

Jennifer's Question: My ex-husband has every other weekend visitation with our 2 kids, but every time they come back our daughter has head lice and he refuses to take them to their extracurricular activities. I have been in the house and know it's unsanitary but what can I do to protect my kids from that environment? Will a judge agree with him that he doesn't have to take the kids to any of their extracurricular activities?

Brette's Answer: Seek a modification. A parent who refuses to take a child to activities is not behaving in the best interest of the child. The head lice are also a concern. You can represent yourself in family court.

What if he refuses to pick our son up from sports practice?

Heather's Question: My son is in middle school and is very passionate about participating in school sports. The practices are every day after school. His father refuses to pick him up from the practices on his days, and will not allow me to pick him up either, stating that it is too inconvenient and that sports are not "required" or "mandatory". Is there anything that I can do? My son is crushed that he will not be able to participate.

Brette's Answer: File for modification for his visits to start after sports practice. The court will support your child participating.

Can the schedule be changed due to their sports and activities?

Renee's Question: My ex lives in another state and he gets our kids every spring break, half of every Christmas break, and every summer break all summer long. This is the first summer visitation since our divorce and our kids are very active in sports and other activities. There are mandatory camps that the kids must attend in order to participate in their activities, but these happen during his visitation time. Are these issues good enough grounds for me to take him back to court to change the visitation so it does not interfere with the kids sports?

Brette's Answer: Yes, these are definitely issues that would allow you to ask for a modification of the order. And I think a judge would be likely to grant it also since participating in these activities is important to your kids and in their best interests.

Housing Arrangements and Visitation

Is it okay if my ex comes to my house for visitation?

Alysa's Question: My ex-husband stays at my house on Wednesday nights so the kids don't have to go to his house (I sleep at my boyfriends). The kids like it because they don't have to pack their things and sleep somewhere else. Is there anything wrong with this arrangement?

Brette's Answer: Absolutely not, as long as everyone is comfortable with it. This kind of arrangement is actually not unusual, especially in the adjustment period. It's a great way to help everyone ease into the situation. I find that most families generally move away from it eventually though. You might find you get tired of him coming into your personal space like that and he might come to feel that he wants the kids to get comfortable in his new home. Do whatever works for you - kudos to all of you for working this out!

Can I request visitation occur someplace other than his home?

Paola's Question: When my husband left last year, he was living with his mother, but he moved out. We have a daughter that is almost 3 years old, and now he wants to take our daughter over to his new house. They have a lot of parties, and I don't think my daughter will be safe over there, especially since he has never taken good care of her in the first place. Can a judge order him to see our daughter at his Mom's house only?

Brette's Answer: Yes, you can request supervised visitation, or direct that visitation not take place at that residence. If there is no court order you need to file for a temporary order now so that you can get something into writing to prevent future problems.

Is it illegal for my boyfriend to sleep in the same room as my child?

Shannon's Question: I currently live in the marital home with my son that's 12 and daughter that's 5. Unfortunately the set up of the home isn't ideal and while my son has his own room with a door, my daughter's bed is in mine. My boyfriend will be visiting and my ex said that if he sleeps in the same room as my kids, he will be contacting child services. He's telling me this is illegal to have him sleep in the same room with me and the kids. My ex in turn tells me he's more than welcome to come for a visit and sleep on the couch. How true is it being illegal?

Brette's Answer: There are no criminal laws that specifically say your boyfriend cannot sleep in the same room as your children, however it does raise serious concerns of appropriateness which could lead to possible child neglect/abuse charges. Any attorney would most likely tell you this is not a good idea and would advise you against it - if you have questions, call your own attorney. Where did you and your husband sleep while living in this home? How did you make it work then? Can you configure it in the same way now? And if not why can't your boyfriend sleep on the couch?

Can I request my ex provide a separate bedroom for my son?

Alicia's Question: My ex and I have an 8 month old son. After six years together, he moved out and moved in with a girlfriend. My concern is that she has two children, a girl 15 years and a boy 12 years old. His plan is to have our son share a room with either one of the kids or sleep in the bed with him and the girlfriend. I feel my son should have his own space at both homes. I don't know these people and neither does my ex. Can I request in our paperwork that he have his own room?

Brette's Answer: I understand your concerns but if every child had to have his or her own room, there would be a lot of parents with no contact with their children. I don't think sleeping in the bed with him and his girlfriend is a good plan - the AAP recommends against co-sleeping. Does he have a crib? If not, this is not a safe environment. If he does, it is safe. I understand your concerns about your son adjusting, so I would recommend he start slowly - have a couple day visits and work up to an overnight.

Will the court make my ex have separate bedrooms for the kids?

Lynette's Question: Is there a law requiring a dad to have a separate bedroom for the children during his visitation? My son sleeps in the living room on an air mattress and my 4 yr. old daughter sleeps in her dad's bed. I think they should have their own room.

Brette's Answer: There are not laws about this kind of thing; there are however cases that indicate what a judge should consider acceptable or not. It really depends on the circumstances. No judge is going to deny a person visitation because he or she cannot afford a large home with multiple bedrooms. It is important however that a child is adequately cared for. If your ex can afford a bigger house or more beds, you have a position worth pursuing.

Should unrelated children of the opposite sex share a room?

Kelly's Question: I have been divorced for 5 years. My daughter is 8 and my ex is remarried to a woman who has 2 sons, ages 10 and 14. My daughter shares a room with the 10 year old son when she has her extended visitations with her father. I am concerned with this room-sharing and sleeping arrangement. I do not find it appropriate that 2 children of the opposite sex and at these ages share personal space where they dress/undress and sleep. I have tried to speak with my ex about this to no avail. Have you ever seen a stipulation in a divorce/child custody decree stating that 2 children, unrelated by blood, and of maturing age should not share a common bedroom? I would like to modify my current order to include this.

Brette's Answer: This is generally not considered acceptable, however some families do not have enough space. If children change alone in the room or in a bathroom there is generally not a problem. If you want to modify your order based on this, you can file for modification. If there are two sons, it certainly seems they could share a room while your daughter is there and that would not be an unreasonable arrangement.

Do I have to return my child if my ex is basically homeless?

Jacinda's Question: My ex is the residential parent and we have joint legal custody. My daughter is with me right now for summer visitation, and has actually been here longer at my ex's request. He is attempting to move to another state. Do I have to send her to a different state, where my ex is homeless, without family, and obviously out of cash (because he wants me to pay to change the flight because he says there isn't enough in his account?).

Brette's Answer: First of all, if he has residential custody then yes you do have to return her to him, unless you can show she would somehow be in danger with him or being with him would not be in her best interests (if he is truly "homeless" that meets this requirement, but if he is just looking for a new place to live and is staying in hotels it may not qualify). You can certainly try to get a change in custody since there has been a change in circumstances since the last time you were in court. Who pays for the transportation would be decided by looking at who has paid for it in the past. Perhaps you might suggest to your ex that you keep her until he is settled and has a place to live. Frame it as making things easier for him.

Can he get weekend visitation if he doesn't have a place to live?

Lara's Question: If my ex-husband has no place to live, do I have to give him our daughter on his visitation weekend?

Brette's Answer: When you say he has no place to live I am unclear as to whether you mean he is between apartments and is currently staying with friends, or if you mean he is completely homeless, living on the street. In the first instance, as long as he is staying at a safe and clean place and your child would not be disturbed by going there, it should be fine. In the second instance, that would not be a good situation. No judge is going to give him weekend overnight visitation if he has no home. If he does settle down and has a permanent residence, then it would be possible.

What if I can’t prove I have a proper residence to keep my kids overnight?

Amy's Question: What happens if the judge ordered me to show a lease for proper residence for my children but I don’t have one, even though I told her I do? Will I not be able to keep my kids overnight?

Brette's Answer: Lying to the court is a serious matter and can result in a perjury charge. Also if visitation is contingent on the lease and you don't have one, there won't be any visitation. You should talk to an attorney who can help you.

Can I have weekend visitation if I'm living in a car?

Question: I am homeless and have weekend visitation rights. Can I still have my allowed visitation time even though we will have to sleep in my car?

Brette's Answer: It is unlikely a court would uphold your rights for an overnight in that situation. You should be able to have daytime visitation in a public place like a park or library or at a friend's home.

How can I prove his house is too unsanitary for visitation?

Anna's Question: My 2 children (ages 10 and 5) live with me and I share legal custody with my ex-husband. I haven't been to his apartment, but the kids and his family tell me that it is a pig-sty, so full of trash and junk that you can't even walk. The kids come back without having bathed, brushed their teeth, or changed clothes for days. He has a history of "forgetting" to give them their medicine, apply sun block, etc. As their mother, I consider this negligence, but how can I prove it?

Brette's Answer: You're going to have to get someone in there to be able to offer testimony or photos in order to get a court to listen to you. Any chance you can drive the kids there and need to come in and use the bathroom? An option is to call child and family services, but if it isn't as bad as you're describing you're going to create a very volatile situation.

What are the stipulations for visitation if he has no running water?

Krystal's Question: My ex recently moved to a one bedroom house, but has no water. My 4 year old son has come home with dirty underwear on, teeth that haven't been brushed, and un-bathed. He buys gallon jugs of water to cook and fill the toilet with and sometimes to drink. Along with this my son said they had pizza for lunch, dinner, and breakfast. My ex knows my son cannot have dairy because of a milk protein allergy, yet my ex won't buy the soy milk or even juice for my son to drink. But the major issue is the lack of running water, what are the stipulations for someone to have children in the home with no running water?

Brette's Answer: The issue is that being in a situation like this does not necessary make a person a bad parent. It is possible to live without running water and still keep your child clean with clean clothes and teeth, so if you ex cannot do that, it is an issue. Ignoring the allergy is an important problem and one that would be of great concern to the court. Failing to make sure the child has a milk substitute is also an issue.

Visitation Safety Concerns

Does he need his own car seats for visitation?

Cindy's Question: I was told by my lawyer a year ago that my ex needed his own car seats for our children, instead of taking my seats each time. I have been letting him use my seats, but last week he refused to bring the seats to me. He now says he doesn't need to have his own and he can use mine anytime he wants. Does he need to purchase his own seats?

Brette's Answer: Well, it would seem to me to be common sense that he needs his own, although I can't tell you what your state case law says. I think any judge would say that he needs to have his own in order to provide adequate care because otherwise where do you draw the line - are you supposed to transfer cribs and high chairs too? If he doesn't have a car seat, he cannot drive the children because it is not safe and it is illegal. I would suggest that your attorney send his attorney a letter saying he must provide his own car seats and you will not give him the children if he does not have them.

Can I refuse visitation if his vehicle lacks the right seat belts?

Amanda's Question: My ex got a truck that only has lap belts in it. He is using booster seats in the front, but I looked it up and it says you can't put children that are 5 and 6 in booster seats with lap belts only. I asked him not to take them on the freeway with them and he told me I can't tell him where he can and can't drive his kids. Can I refuse to let him take them if they are not in the right restraints?

Brette's Answer: You can refuse, but he can then say you're violating the order. You need to get the order modified to reflect this so you won't have any problems. You're going to need to get someone who is an expert to testify about what is legal and what isn't - possibly a state trooper or police officer? Call and ask if they have a car seat expert - most do.

What should I do if she told me her Dad left her home alone?

Alexandra's Question: My 4 year old has visitation every other weekend with her father. She hates going with her father and I have to prepare her days in advance and even then she cries frantically. She also recently told me that her father has left her home alone on more than one occasion. What should I do before the next visitation?

Brette's Answer: Talk to your ex. 4 year olds are not reliable reporters, so she might not be telling you exactly what happened.

Is it appropriate if their older brother babysits while their dad is gone?

Julie's Question: Our youngest children are 15 and 12. My ex-husband left them alone to travel to a concert in another state with his girlfriend, saying our 18 year old son (who dropped out of school, has completely isolated in Ex's house, is self-medicating with marijuana, and gets no therapy or any outside help) is an adult and able to care for our kids when he’s not there. When I asked recently if he'd be home with the children overnight, he said he may or may not go to his girlfriend's, but all the kids are very responsible to be left alone. Would a judge find issue with our 12 and 15 year old being left at home alone with their non-life functioning 18 year old brother while their dad travels with and sleeps over his girlfriend's house?

Brette's Answer: It's hard to say. You would need to show it is not in their best interests to be alone and offer examples of what has happened when they are alone. It is not unreasonable to leave a 12 year old in the care of an 18 year old but if the 18 year old is not sober that is an issue. In general if he isn't going to spend his scheduled time with the children, they should be with you. Talk with your attorney for how to file for modification. 

Can he get visitation if he gave our 5 year old son alcohol?

T's Question: My 5 years old son's father was basically never involved in his life. Now he has filed for visitation, but my son really does not want to go (and it's not any type of separation problems because he attends school). Every time I make him go he cries and begs me not to, and tells me that he hates it there, and that they are mean to him. He also comes back with very bad habits, saying curse words and sexually inappropriate things. He has also admitted to me that he lets him "taste" liquor because he thinks it is funny that he can't stand the taste. Is this good enough reason for this to go any other way, and what are some of my options?

Brette's Answer: I am concerned about the language your son has picked up and sampling alcohol is not acceptable. These are serious concerns and should be discussed in court. I do want to clarify one thing - you said he isn't having separation issues because he goes to school. Actually, it's quite common for children to have problems going back and forth between parents, no matter what their age. It is a difficult transition.

What are my options if CPS has intervened at their Dad's house?

S's Question: My children are due to go to their father's and I am concerned for their welfare at his house and with the people his is associating with. He is living with his father and the house was recently raided by the police. His father has been arrested and taken to jail. His father's girlfriend had two children at the house (a 3 year old and a 5 month old) and they have been removed from her care and taken into the care of department of community services. I would appreciate any advice you could give me on the situation.

Brette's Answer: You should file for a modification of the custody plan. No judge is going to want to send kids into a house where other kids have been removed by protective services.

He's taking the kids around people convicted of child endangerment.

Jessica's Question: I am having trouble with my ex-husband on agreeing where he is allowed to take my children. He has friends in his life again that have been convicted of child endangerment and willful harm. Step dad has also recently been charged and sentenced with drug possession. I told him that I do not want my children in that environment. What can I do?

Brette's Answer: Go back to court and get the order modified specifying he is not to take the children to be with this family, or you can make it broader to say not with people known to have drug convictions. It also sounds like he might need some direction about what exactly he ought to do during visitation. You could try to come up with some suggestions for him. Good luck.

What can I do if he has seizures and drives with our child?

Peggy's Question: My ex-husband is having seizures. I know he has been driving with her in the car. (I have witnessed him driving the car to drop her off and pick her up at our designated place.) I asked that he not drive with her and he informed me that his medical condition is none of my business. I am concerned for her safety both while driving and while in his custody. What are my rights to ensure her safety?

Brette's Answer: You can seek to have visitation modified so that he cannot drive with her in the car.

Is supervised visitation warranted if he has cerebral palsy?

Regina's Question: My ex has cerebral palsy and has to walk with a walker or cane and falls down a lot.  Our daughter is special needs (she has Rett Syndrome) and sometimes she runs off, or gets really upset and throws herself on the floor. She also has seizures and if one occurs, she has to be carried to a vehicle to be taken to the ER.  I am curious if supervised visitation would be an option for him with our daughter, just to ensure she is safe while she is with him?

Brette's Answer: In a situation where your ex cannot provide the care your daughter needs it would make sense that another adult needs to be present during the visitation. You should talk with your attorney about options. 

How do I handle visitation if my ex has a sleep disorder?

Vanessa's Question: My ex hasn't been around our son since the first two weeks he was born and he's now 1 and half. We are going to court for child support and I have heard that he wants to see his son now. He has a sleeping problem that makes him fall asleep at any point in time and it's hard to wake him up and I worry about my son's safety. If I allow him to go over there, can I request supervised visitation? Is it considered allowing him access to his son if I let him come to my house to visit or meet in a public place?

Brette's Answer: Yes, any kind of contact would be good and this is how you want your son to be introduced to him anyhow. His medical problem is a concern, so you can ask for supervised visitation.

Can I refuse visitation if I feel that he is mentally unstable?

Suzanne's Question: My ex and I have a temporary visitation agreement for our three year old daughter. He has Wednesdays and every other weekend. The Wednesday visit is increasingly becoming disruptive to our child's schedule. The drop off time is too late at night, so she is wired on sugar, un-bathed and unfed at 8 PM. I have tried to discuss this with my ex, but he refuses to help or change. He also encourages her to lie to me and is verbally abusive to me on the phone and in front of our daughter. He has a long history of depression, anger management issues and is a drug user. Can I limit or refuse a visitation if I feel that he is mentally unstable and that the child's safety may be in danger?

Brette's Answer: I would suggest modifying visitation so that drop off is earlier - say 6 pm. That way they still have frequent contact, but you can control dinner and bedtime. You should be keeping a journal about every incident that occurs so that you have a record. Calling you names is not a basis to change visitation. Encouraging your child to lie is a concern however, but that's going to be very difficult to prove - 3 year olds are not reliable in any way. I think you also need to have a provision inserted that says something about schedule changes should not be denied without a compelling reason. You're in dangerous water when you ask about denying visits. You're not a mental health expert and if he doesn't have a clear medical record of issues it's going to look like you're interfering with visitation. I think you need to get an attorney whom you can sit down with and carefully go over everything that has happened, examine what kind of a record exists and talk about how to move forward in a way that will not put you in a tenuous position, but will also protect your daughter.

How is visitation handled if he lives far away and has mental issues?

Cara's Question: My ex lives out of state and wants our 7 year old to come out to visit him. I have sole physical and legal custody, while he has "reasonable accommodation" for visitation and needs my written permission for our child to leave the state. Our child is starting psychiatric care for her severe ADHD. Her dad has a history of mental health issues, physical violence, and I've had two women who he was in relationships contact me to warn about his behavior. Obviously I'm very concerned about my daughter being alone with her dad but I don't know how much legal pull I have. I don't think she should go out of state with him.

Brette's Answer: Maybe you could find a compromise where he comes to visit her in your area. Talk to your attorney to get a sense as to what your state expects you to accommodate. 

Can she stop visitation if he has a venomous snake?

Jody's Question: Can my son's ex-wife stop weekend stays with my son because he now owns a venomous snake? The snake is in a locked cage with no access in. She is telling him he can't have them for his alternate weekend sleep-over now.

Brette's Answer: She can't decide that, but the judge can.

Custodial Parent Rights

Does he have a right to know how I spend my time with the kids?

Karen's Question: My ex is extremely verbally abusive and controlling. If the kids are with me, he wants to know what we doing 24-7, and will continue to call until I tell him. Do I have to tell him exactly where we are? He keeps threatening to call the police if I don't tell him.

Brette's Answer: Neither parent must account to the other how they spend their time with the children. You're both independent adults and not beholden to the other. In this instance, I think a phone call by your attorney to his attorney might take care of it. If not, it's clear there are some underlying issues. You might have to go to court to get an order restraining him from calling, or designating the number of calls that is allowed per day.

Do I have a right to know where my kids are during visitation?

Julie's Question: I am the custodial parent, and there has never been any court ordered visitation. Do I have the right to know where my ex takes my children, and whom he leaves them with? I feel as their mother I should have the right to know where my children are. If the house burned down with everyone in it, no one would have any idea to notify me, and I would have no idea that my children were harmed.

Brette's Answer: I am concerned first that you have no court order for visitation. You need one, so that there are limits on this situation. You most certainly need to know where they are. They ought to be with your ex, and if they are not on a regular basis, there needs to be a change in visitation. Talk to an attorney.

Does he have to let me know who is watching the kids while he’s at work?

Ashley's Question: When my ex is at work, does he have to let me know who is watching my kids and where they will be and the contact phone number?

Brette's Answer: If he won't tell you, call your attorney. Most likely the information can be conveyed from his attorney to yours. He doesn't have to tell you unless the court orders him to. 

Can he take our son out of state without my permission?

Sharae's Question: My ex-husband and I have joint legal custody and I have sole physical custody. He has our son every other weekend and up to 2 months each year for vacation time, but only two weeks at a time. Can he take our son out of state without agreeing with me first?

Brette's Answer: In most states unless there is a specific provision against this, yes.

Do I need written consent for an out of state vacation?

Vanese's Question: My divorce states that neither party shall take the children out of the state without expressed written consent of the other party. Does that apply to vacations?

Brette's Answer: Yes it does unless there is an exception written in for that.

How can I prevent my ex from taking my son out of the state?

Christina's Question: I have temporary sole custody of my 4 year old son. His Dad picked him up for visitation and flew him out of state to go deep sea fishing, without telling me about his plans. What rights do I have, and can I prevent this from happening in the future?

Brette's Answer: You can go back to court to get the custody order modified to say he can't take the child out of the state without your permission. It's pretty standard language.

Do I have a right to know who lives with my ex?

Angela's Question: After my daughter arrived back home from visitation with her father, she told me that daddy had a new friend that stayed with them the entire time. I asked my ex-husband for some basic information about his girlfriend and he told me her first name, but he would not tell me her last name or what she does for a living. Don't I have the right to know the people who will be around my daughter? He also refuses to tell me where he lives so I have no idea where they are during the visit. What are my rights?

Brette's Answer: Your ex isn't required to tell you anything about what he does, unless your court order or agreement specifically directs him to do so. I think you should go to court and ask to at least have his address - that is a basic piece of information. If you don't want a girlfriend there, you can ask the court to direct him not to have overnight guests while your child is there.

What if his girlfriend wants to start spending time with my kids?

Kristen's Question: I found out that my ex started dating one of my good friends a month after our divorce was finalized. She was a bridesmaid at my wedding! This is a person who I got jobs, helped whenever I could, and LOVED. They have been dating over a year at this point and she wants to be able to spend time with my children. I feel betrayed by this woman - who basically worked her way into a life that she ultimately stole from me. I fear she will try to do the same with my children (they are almost 4 and 5). What can I do? I also should mention that my children have always known her as my friend - not sure how they will react to seeing mommy's friend with daddy - when they wonder why mommy and daddy can't be together!

Brette's Answer: I understand your concerns, but your ex has a right to spend time with his kids and have a relationship with him. And unless this woman presents a danger to the children, he can have her around them. In fact, because they know her, it will probably be much less upsetting than if he were involved with someone they had never met. If she is going to be a permanent fixture in his life, it is reasonable that the children should see her and adjust to her. Your kids are too young to think it's weird that their dad is dating their mom's friend.

Can we include a restriction our kids not be around significant others?

Anita's Question: My husband has decided to live with another woman and their lives are filled with partying and irresponsibility. Their lifestyle is inappropriate for my children to be around. I want to know if we can stipulate in our divorce a restriction that our children are not to be around any of our new significant others? I just feel like my children have already suffered enough emotional stress.

Brette's Answer: Yes, it's common to include a provision like that in a parenting plan; however I have to warn you it often doesn't work out. First, it's unlikely your husband is going to agree to it and it often become unworkable if he is living with the person.

Can I request he can't live with someone else until married?

KaLynn's Question: My ex and I are having a hard time agreeing on where his visitation with our 3 year old child should take place. He is already living with his mistress and wants visitation to occur at her house. I want to request in our decree that there cannot be any overnight stays with his girlfriend while my child is present until they get married, even though he lives there. Could I request the visits take place at a different location instead like his Mother's? Could I even request he can't live with someone else until married?

Brette's Answer: You can ask for anything you want, it will be up to the judge to decide if it is warranted. You're going to need some good reasons to ask for these things, other than just your own discomfort.

Will a judge dictate who can be near the children?

Lisa's Question: Can a judge put a restraining order on a spouse's lover at her husband's request to keep the lover away from his kids? Is this legal and should the wife do the same if the husband is found to be seeing someone also?

Brette's Answer: A judge can dictate who can be near the children, particularly if the person in question poses a threat to the well-being of the children or creates a dangerous environment. Sometimes this is done to try to calm things down and allow the children time to adjust to things. You can certainly ask for a reciprocal order if you want. Good luck.

Can he get a "no shack-up" clause if I've lived with my boyfriend for 15 months?

Jennifer's Question: Can my ex modify our decree to add the no shack up clause even though I've already been living with my boyfriend for 15 months?

Brette's Answer: Only the judge can modify an order and if your ex is asking for this, you have the chance to respond and tell the judge the situation.

What does no romantic companion at all in my order mean?

Sonya's Question: Can my romantic companion be around my children? It states in my order no romantic companion at all. Does that mean my companion cannot see the kids in public places? Also, how about when it's their birthday party, etc. at someone else's home?

Brette's Answer: If your order says your companion cannot be around your child, then that means ever. To change this, you need to file for a modification of the order.

If my boyfriend can’t be present during visitation, are other times okay?

Suzanne's Question: I have a very vague court ordered parenting plan which states that at no time during mother’s parenting time should my boyfriend be present. My daughter has a concert and it's not during my parenting time. Can I bring my boyfriend to the concert?

Brette's Answer: I would suggest that to avoid difficulties it would be easier not to. If you want to see your daughter after the concert you would need to be sure he wasn't nearby. Bringing him is likely to incite your ex I would imagine. Talk with your attorney to understand your rights

What if his girlfriend spends the night if the parenting plan prohibits it?

Nicole's Question: My ex-husband is using his Christmas visitation for the first time. He told me he will be taking our daughter out of state for a week with his girlfriend. Our divorce papers say that he cannot have our daughter overnight if his girlfriend is there. My daughter does not want to go and I am really nervous about her being away from me that long especially since she would be on the other side of the country. Can I just refuse to let her go?

Brette's Answer: If that is what he plans and it violates the order you should go back to court and have it straightened out there if at all possible because the last thing you want is for him to call the police and have to try to get them to understand.

Can I stop overnight visits if his girlfriend is sleeping there?

Linda's Question: Do I have any rights to tell my husband that he cannot have the kids spend the night with him if his girlfriend is also sleeping there? I do not think it is healthy for them to be staying with another woman that is not their mother.

Brette's Answer: Unless your order prohibits it, no. This is a problem a lot of mothers deal with. You're both going to move on with your lives and you may not always agree with how he moves forward. A girlfriend might be something the kids need to get used to, but it doesn't mean she is dangerous. Good luck.

How can I prevent my kids from being around his girlfriend?

Heather's Question: After 12 years of marriage and 4 children together, my husband told me that he didn't love me anymore and left me for another woman. Now we are getting a divorce, and he wants the children to be with him and this woman every weekend. I can't imagine having my kids be around her, especially my youngest son and my baby girl. Is there anything I can do about this? Can I include a condition that he not introduce the kids to her for a period of 2-3 months? It drives me crazy thinking about.

Brette's Answer: I know how hard this is. First of all, the amount of visitation time will be decided by the judge, so try not stress over that right now. However, you are going to have to learn to get over your resentment of his girlfriend. It would be rare for a custody agreement to state how long a person has to wait to introduce a significant other. As far as the court is concerned, he has every right to have a relationship with her and as long as she is not a dangerous person, it isn't harmful for the children. That isn't to say it isn't difficult for them and for you, but this is something you have to learn to live with. I know that's easy to say but not so easy to do, but it is the reality of your situation. The best way to handle this is to take the high road. Don't make a scene. Try to keep things calm  and civil for the sake of your child. 

Do I have to let his girlfriend pick the kids up for visitation?

Amy's Question: My ex-husband wants his girlfriend (whom he left me for) to drive our children from my home in Connecticut to Philadelphia, where he lives (a 4-5 hour drive). I am the custodial parent, and I am fine with HIM driving, but I don't know or trust HER. I am trying to "play nice" and he is telling me to get a lawyer.

Brette's Answer: You are not required to hand your kids over to anyone but their father unless there is a court order stating otherwise. If he wants to take you back to court, that's his choice, but he will lose. Now, the other side of this is why don't you want to allow this? If you don't trust her, I think that's a good reason. If she has no relationship with the kids, that's another good reason. But is this true or are you trying to just be difficult? I would ask you that question. It is good to cooperate with the other parent, but if you have serious concerns about this, then you should stand your ground.

When your ex shifts childcare responsibilities to someone else

Amy's Question: My ex has set visitations with our 6 year old which have been going good until he got engaged. Now our child spends more time with the new girlfriend on visitations than with her father. Is that right or fair to our child?

Brette's Answer: This is a common problem I ran into when I was a law guardian. Some fathers tend to shift child care responsibilities to their girlfriends. Is it right? No. Is there much you can do about it? No. The best plan is to have a calm and reasonable conversation with your ex and simply let him know that your child is interested in spending time with him during visitation. It is also possible that although you are hearing more about the girlfriend than the dad, your ex may be there and involved, but your child is reporting about the girlfriend because she is new. You can't always rely on what your child tells you because it can be skewed and not the whole truth. Talk to your ex in a non-accusatory way and express your concern and try to get a picture for what is going on.

Does his new wife have any rights as a step parent?

Krystal's Question: My ex and I have been divorced for over a year and he has now remarried. The three of us do not get along and I don't feel comfortable when she comes to get my kids to bring them to their dad. Do I have to let them go with her? Does she have any rights as a step parent?

Brette's Answer: No. Your ex is the one who has visitation rights. I understand your concerns, however they are married and if you refuse to allow it you're really creating a hostile situation with him. It's your right to do so, but she could be around for many years, so the sooner you learn to cooperate with her, the better for your child.

I don't want him having my daughter around his wife

Erin's Question: I have a 2 month old daughter with a man that was married and apparently still with his wife, which I had no idea about.... He only sees her about 2-3 times a week for an hour or two. Will he get to take her over nights or visitations without my supervision? I don't want him having my daughter around his wife, not saying she would allow this but who knows.

Brette's Answer: Eventually he would have overnights unless there is some reason not to. His wife is part of his life and as long as she poses no risk to the child, being around her would be approved by the court.

Can my ex refuse to let my spouse pick our son up for visitation?

M's Question: Can my ex-wife stop my new wife from flying home to get my son for my visitation time? My ex-wife and I are currently on bad terms and I'm afraid that she won't let my new wife fly home and pick him up and fly him back out here for my summer visitation. Can she legally do this?

Brette's Answer: Yes, because visitation belongs to you and you only. You can't delegate it without agreement or without a court order allowing someone else to do the pick-up.

Do I have to let his wife pick up the kids for visitation?

Liz's Question: My custody decree states that my ex is to be present to pick up the children for visitation. He has been sending his wife to pick up kids for the last year, telling me he was training for a new job. I agreed to do this for 2 or 3 months, but haven't had guts to say it has been long enough due to his abuse. Last month I had to get a protective order against him. At the hearing, the judge said I have to let his wife pick up the kids, even though our decree doesn't say that. Can one judge tell me to break the order of another judge? And do I have to let them go?

Brette's Answer: The visitation order stands as written and perhaps the other judge did not see the actual order. However, because you allowed the wife to do pick up, it is likely the family court will say you've ignored the order and don't have the grounds to enforce it now. You can certainly try, but given the fact that you're having problems interacting, it might make sense to stay away from each other and have someone else be an intermediary for pick-ups.

Do I have to let my baby go with his girlfriend if he won't be there?

Michelle's Question: Do I have to let my 14 month old go with my ex-husband's girlfriend for visitation even though he will not be there?

Brette's Answer: No. Visitation is for the parent. If he's not available, it's not required.

Can his girlfriend watch our son while he's at work?

Cynthia's Question: I am the mother of a 2 year old baby. I am concerned that my son’s father is going to leave my son with his pregnant girlfriend while he's at work during his visitation. I do not know her and have never meet her before and do not trust her watching my son without his presence there. Do I have that right as the mother to let him know?

Brette's Answer: During his custodial time it's up to him who has contact with the child. If you believe the person is a danger then you can seek to have your order modified to prohibit her from having contact or that your ex must use you as the child care provider if he cannot be with your child. The best approach might just be to talk with your ex and see if you could meet the girlfriend in a neutral, calm setting so you could get to know each other. This would likely allay your fears and help you feel comfortable. 

How do we handle exchanges if there is a restraining order against his ex?

Kendra's Question: My fiancé and I are getting married in September. He and his ex-wife have a child together who is 5, and have joint legal custody with her having residential custody. She recently came into our home and tried to attack me and got charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and battery. Now there is a no contact order. How do we handle visitation exchanges?

Brette's Answer: There is no reason she can't pull into the driveway or up to the curb and the child could walk out and get into the car, avoiding contact with you.

What can I do if the step mom treats my son badly?

Summer's Question: What can I do to keep my 9 year old son from having dramatic visitation with his dad? My ex has been married to his current wife now for about 3 years. She has some serious anger and jealousy issues with my son. My son's stepmother never speaks to him when he is there and they are always fighting when my son is there over him. He is not allowed to attend his father's other children's birthday parties. It has really gotten out of hand. What can I do?

Brette's Answer: I think the best way to start to deal with this is find a time to talk with your ex. You need to have a non-confrontational talk with him. Tell him you're concerned about your son and want to work together to help him.

It sounds like there is turmoil in your ex's home. A lot of families experience turmoil. I'm concerned that your son's stepmother seems to have some issues with him. The best way to solve that would be for the entire family to see a counselor together. I wonder if it might be possible for you to get to know the stepmom and become a bit friendly with her. This might help her see that your son is not the enemy. Maybe you could work together to iron out problems.

It's important to remember there are usually two sides to every story, particularly when told by a 9 year old. I'm not discounting your son's version of the events, I'm suggesting there might be more to it and perhaps you could try to find out what. If your son is truly miserable there, then you could seek to have visitation modified, perhaps reducing the length of time he is there. I don't think it would be a good idea to try to end all visitations. Your son undoubtedly needs his father in his life. I think the best plan is to find out how to make that happen with as little conflict as possible.

Can the court make his girlfriend move out?

Chanel's Question: A month after my husband moved out, I found out that he has a girlfriend who stays the night. I am concerned because I have seen a change in my little girl - she is extremely clingy and insecure. My daughter now has to share what little time she has with her dad with this woman and her boy. I feel it is detrimental to my daughter and that he is putting his sexual needs first, but he tells me it's none of my business! Is there any way I can prevent this woman from coming around, and can I ask the court to stop this?

Brette's Answer: This is actually a common situation. The thing you have to remember is that a court is interested in what is in your child's best interest, period. No parent creates a perfect home life or situation. The question is whether the situation as it is now is in some way harmful to your daughter.

I completely understand why you are uncomfortable with this situation. However, I'll tell you from experience that the court is not going to order your ex to move his girlfriend out. He has a right to live with her if he wants to. And as long as your daughter is in no danger there, it's really unlikely any changes will be made.

You may be able to reduce the time he spends with her. Is he actually there all the time she is at his house or is the girlfriend babysitting her? This is an important point because the visitation time is meant for him to use personally. If he's not using it, it could be reduced. Your other option is to take her to see a therapist who could potentially testify that this arrangement is in some way harming her.

I recommend you get an attorney, but I also recommend you take a deep breath and realize that your ex is going to go on with his life and you can't change that.

Can I stop visitation if his girlfriend is harassing me?

Shannon's Question: Can I stop my ex from having our daughter around his new girlfriend if she has threatened and harassed me? She is unstable and has threatened me by text and followed me in her car to harass me.

Brette's Answer: Her treatment of you and your child are completely separate. If she has not harmed or threatened your child, there is nothing you can do. If you can show this person is a detrimental influence on your children, you can ask for a modification to your parenting plan. Talk to your lawyer to understand your state laws and how you should best proceed.  .

What can I do if his girlfriend treats our children badly?

Robin's Question: I have full legal custody of my children, and their father has visitation rights of every other weekend. He lives with his girlfriend, and she screams and cusses at our children. This causes times of depression and disappointment with their dad because he allows it to happen. I can find no help thru the state or the county without having to take their dad back to court. How can I protect my children from this mental abuse and not get in trouble with the visitation court order?

Brette's Answer: The only way to change this is to go back to court. You would need evidence that this is what is happening. You could take your kids to a therapist and see if that is helpful.

Can my ex stop visitation if I'm living with my boyfriend?

Ana's Question: Can my ex-husband remove all the visitation rights from me, if I am living with my boyfriend now?

Brette's Answer: No. Your ex has no power to decide anything about your rights. Only the court can decide that. Your time with your children is your time. He doesn't get to decide how you spend it or who is there. If all of or much of your parenting time is spent without you present, then there is a problem.

Stipulations about Overnight Guests

Sue's Question: My divorce was over a cheating husband. At the time, my 12 year old daughter did not want to stay every other weekend with her father at his girlfriend's house. Needless to say, the divorce got messy because I voiced this concern. Because I voiced this, my ex-husband decided to add this to our divorce decree that I could not have any overnight guests (male or female) while my children are present. I have been in a 2 year relationship with a man who does stay periodically when the children are present. My ex keeps threatening me that he will take me back to court if this continues. They are very attached to my boyfriend and our home life is very happy once again. If my ex takes me back to court, will I lose this case because it's in my divorce decree? I could understand it if I was bringing a different man home every night, but this is a serious relationship. Now I regret signing the papers with this in them, but I did it at the time to protect my daughter who was having a very hard time accepting what had happened. Needless to say, he married her so it does not apply to him any longer. Please help!!

Brette's Answer: Technically it sounds like you are in violation of the order, although you need to speak to an attorney of your own to confirm that. There are a couple of avenues open to you. You and your ex could go to mediation and create a modification to the decree allowing either of you to have overnight guests, which would have to be approved (read: rubber stamped) by a judge. You could file a petition seeking to modify the order in court, or you could sit and wait for your ex to do something about it. Should he do something about it, the question is going to be not only whether you've violated the order (which you probably have) but, what effect this has had on your child and what effect it would have in the future. This is something the judge would need to decide. I'm not sure what your ex hopes to gain by pressing this point though. Do you allow your daughter to be with him when he is spending the night with a girlfriend? If there's quid pro quo here, I don't see what his beef is. I think you should try to talk to him rationally and reasonably and help him see that going back to court is just going to cost you both a lot of money, make things even more difficult between the two of you and possibly affect his relationship with your daughter. » Top of Child Visitation Rights page

How can I fight the false allegations against my boyfriend?

Nina's Question: I've been divorced from my abusive husband for almost ten years now, and am the non-custodial parent. I found someone who makes me happy and we've been together 8 years now. When my kids first met him, they really liked, but my ex got upset and felt threatened. As a result, my kids withdrew from me and fiancé and made allegations of abuse against him. My fiancé is not allowed to be around my kids at all. The allegations have been investigated, no proof was found and nothing was filed. How do I fight back against the false accusations?

Brette's Answer: Since the allegations were unfounded, that should not matter. The problem is the kids don't want to be with him. Depending on how old they are, that can affect the court's decision about custody. Are you seeking to change the custody arrangement or are you just upset about the allegations? If you're upset about the allegations there is nothing to do since they were unfounded. You might consider getting your kids into counseling to help them work through the problems.

Copyright WomansDivorce.com | Updated February 21, 2023