Types of Parental Visitation and How Each Works

So you’re getting divorced, and the topic of parental visitation has come up. What does this mean for you and your relationship with your child?

There are different types of parental visitation in divorce, and it helps to understand what each type entails. Read on for valuable information that can help you make informed decisions. About your child’s welfare and promote a positive and nurturing environment for their growth and development.

What is parental visitation?

Parental visitation refers to the legally allocated time a non-custodial parent is permitted to spend with their child or children. To understand this concept fully, it's necessary to define what we mean by custodial and non-custodial parents.

A custodial parent is the one with whom the child primarily resides. This parent handles the day-to-day decisions and care of the child. 

A non-custodial parent is the parent who does not have primary physical custody of the child, but they have the legal right to spend time with their child.

There are various situations where one parent becomes non-custodial. Let's consider three examples:

Divorce or separation

When parents divorce or separate, they usually agree upon (or are court-ordered to abide by) a custody arrangement. Often, one parent is granted primary physical custody, making them the custodial parent, while the other parent becomes the non-custodial parent.

Unmarried parents

If the parents never married, the mother usually obtains sole custody, unless the father takes legal steps to share custody. In this case, the father becomes the non-custodial parent and would need to establish paternity and visitation rights..

Incarceration or rehabilitation

If a parent is incarcerated or in a rehabilitation program, they become the non-custodial parent. In these cases, visitation might be restricted or supervised based on the circumstances.

Parental visitation rights are designed to preserve the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child, as maintaining a relationship with both parents is typically in the best interest of the child. But the particulars of the arrangement can vary greatly. They depend on a number of factors, such as the child's needs, parental capability, and the relationship between the parents.

Read: Guide to Successful Co-parenting after Divorce

Types of parental visitation

The three common types are unsupervised visitation, supervised visitation, and virtual visitation. Each has unique characteristics and applications.

Unsupervised visitation

Unsupervised visitation is the most common form of visitation granted by family courts. In this arrangement, the non-custodial parent is allowed to spend time with their child without any supervision. This could include taking the child to their home, going on outings, or participating in the child's extracurricular activities.

Unsupervised visitation is typically granted when the court determines that the non-custodial parent poses no risk to the child's safety or well-being. It may be used when parents have divorced or separated but the non-custodial parent maintains a healthy, positive relationship with the child.

The specifics of unsupervised visitation, such as the schedule and duration, are usually outlined in the custody agreement. It can be as detailed as necessary to avoid confusion or conflict. For instance, the parenting agreement might specify pick-up and drop-off times and locations, holiday schedules, and provisions for travel.

Supervised visitation

Supervised visitation requires an authorized adult or agency to be present during the non-custodial parent's time with the child. This is generally implemented when there are concerns about the child's safety or the non-custodial parent's ability to care for the child. 

Reasons for supervised visitation could include a history of abuse, neglect, mental illness, substance use disorder, or if the parent and child have no existing relationship and need to establish one gradually.

The supervisor could be a trusted family member or friend agreed upon by both parents or a professional supervisor from an agency specializing in supervised visitations. In some cases, the visitation might occur at a designated visitation center.

The goal of supervised visitation is to allow the parent and child to maintain a relationship in a safe, controlled environment. It's important to note that supervised visitation is not necessarily a permanent arrangement. For example, if the non-custodial parent demonstrates improved circumstances and capability to care for the child, the court may transition to unsupervised visitation.

Virtual visitation

Virtual visitation is a relatively new concept in family law. It involves the use of technology to facilitate communication between the non-custodial parent and the child. This could involve video calls, instant messaging, email, or online gaming. Virtual visitation is not meant to replace in-person visitation but rather to supplement it.

This form of visitation can be particularly useful in situations where the non-custodial parent lives far from the child. It can also be beneficial if work schedules or other commitments make traditional in-person visitation difficult.

Virtual visitation allows the non-custodial parent to maintain frequent contact with their child, participating in daily routines like bedtime stories, helping with homework, or simply catching up on the day's events. As with other forms of visitation, the specifics should ideally be outlined in the custody agreement to avoid any misunderstandings.

Checklist: How to Handle Shared Custody and Visitation in Divorce 

Examples of child visitation schedules

Child visitation schedules are a key part of any custody arrangement. But every family is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. 

Here are a few common examples:

Every other weekend

This is a popular schedule where the non-custodial parent spends time with the child every other weekend, typically from Friday evening to Sunday evening. This amount of time allows the child to have regular contact with the non-custodial parent without significant disruption to their school week.

Summers and holidays

Another common arrangement involves the non-custodial parent having the child for extended periods during school vacations, such as the entire summer break or alternating major holidays. This setup often works well when parents live far apart, making frequent weekend visits impractical.

Midweek visits

In addition to every other weekend, some families include a midweek visit, often on a Wednesday evening. This can help maintain a close relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.

Splitting school breaks

Some families opt to divide school breaks evenly. For instance, one parent might have the child for the first week of winter break, and the other parent might take them the second week.

Alternating weeks

In this arrangement, the child lives with each parent on an alternating weekly basis. This type of schedule requires a high level of cooperation between parents and is typically used in shared custody situations.

These are just examples. The best visitation schedule for your family depends on your circumstances, including the child's age, parents' work schedules, geographical distance, and the child's needs and preferences.

Read: 9 Terms to Know When Making Child Custody Decisions

Tips for making your visitation schedule work

  • Opt for consistency. Stick to the scheduled times for pick-ups and drop-offs. This not only helps avoid conflict, but it also provides your child with a sense of stability and predictability.
  • Maintain flexibility. Unexpected events can happen. Be willing to adjust the schedule when necessary while maintaining the overall structure.
  • Create a comfortable environment. You want your child to feel at home in both residences. Have personal space for them to keep familiar items, such as toys, clothes, or bedding.
  • Communicate well with your co-parent. Clear and respectful communication is key. Discuss any changes or issues promptly and calmly.

Keep the kids’ needs first. Visitation is about maintaining the parent-child relationship.

Suggested: Understanding and Protecting Kids’ Mental Health in Divorce

Co-Founder & President
Divorce Preparation, Divorce Process, Divorce Guidelines, Legal Insights

Heather is Hello Divorce's co-founder, President and Chief Content Officer, and our resident expert on divorce rules, procedures and guidelines across the states. Heather uses her content background, deep legal knowledge, and coding skills to author most of our state-specific divorce software. Heather joined Hello Divorce two months into a planned year-long vacation from the start-up world because she was convinced that the legal world is one of the only things left that truly needed disruption. Since her expertise (obsession) is making complex, frustrating processes easier – and even enjoyable – for consumers, Heather leads the product, customer service, marketing, and content teams at Hello Divorce.

Heather has a Master's in Journalism from Northwestern University and a BA from the University of Notre Dame. Heather lives in California with her husband, two kids, and too many pets. You can often find her answering Hello Divorce's free info calls on weekends, and in her free time, she dabbles in ukulele, piano, and electric bass.