Child visitation laws focus on the rights of parents or other parties to spend time with a minor child. These laws typically cover visitation with minor children after a divorce or separation. They usually apply to visitation of children whose parents have never been married as well. In some cases, these laws even apply to step parents or grandparents. Judges use child visitation laws to decide whether a party to a case should be allowed to visit with a child as well as when and where the visitation should occur.
Child visitation laws may vary from place to place. In many places, however, child visitation is not an automatic right. While it may seem logical that both parents would have the right to visit with their children, a judge can deny either parent visitation or impose supervised visitation. For example, if a judge determines that it is not in a child's best interests to visit with a parent, he may deny that parent visitation. This may occur in cases of abuse or neglect as well as when a parent is drug addicted.
In some cases, judges apply child visitation laws when awarding one parent child custody and the other visitation. For example, a judge may award one parent sole custody of a child, which typically means the child lives with that parent. In such a case, the other parent may be awarded visitation. Awards of visitation are not limited to sole custody cases, however. In some places, parents may be awarded joint custody, but one parent is named the non-custodial parent. When this occurs, the parent who does not live with the child may be awarded visitation.
Although many places have child custody laws that allow a judge to make visitation decisions for parents, this does not mean parents are powerless in such situations. In many places, parents are permitted to make their own visitation agreements, which may be presented to a judge for his approval. In fact, some jurisdictions require parents to engage in mediation in an attempt to come to an agreement. Once a judge approves this type of agreement, the visitation agreement may be made into an official court order.
Sometimes the difference between child custody laws and child visitation laws can be difficult to discern. This is due to the fact that these law categories are closely related. They are, however, not the same. A person can have visitation without having any type of custody. On the other hand, a person can have a type of custody, such as partial custody, and be granted visitation as well.