One of the most hotly debated issues of any custody battle is the visitation rights of both parents. When a custody agreement is made, if custody is to be shared between two parents, there is typically a designated primary parent. This parent will be referred to as such regardless of how evenly the time is split up between the two parents. When the non-primary parent has their designated time with the child per the custody order, it is commonly referred to as "visitation," though New Jersey is trying to stray away from the use of this word. Typically visitation schedules are created dependent on the circumstances of the custody agreement or divorce and what Family Court deems to be the best for the child. Visitation can have certain restrictions as well, and can come in one of two forms: unsupervised visitation and supervised visitation. What type will be arranged for a person's case depends on the nature of the custody agreement and/or the circumstances that led to the divorce.
Unsupervised visitation is the most common type of visitation. A standing custody order will simply allow for a child to be under a parent's care without any sort of supervision. Unsupervised visitation will normally be considered for most cases, especially those involving a mutual divorce. Provided that the custody order is adhered to and parents are able to remain on schedule for what had been arranged, then unsupervised visitation can continue. If the parents are amicable enough to create an agreement through mediation or outside of court, the custody agreement will typically be drafted with unsupervised visitation in mind.
Sometimes, certain circumstances will call for supervised visitation. Supervised visitation is exactly what it sounds like. The agreement mandates that the non-primary parent engages in visitation with the child under the supervision of the court or a designated individual. The reason for the supervision is to ensure that the party being supervised adheres to the agreement. Supervised visitation is rarely agreed to during mediation phases, instead, it may be imposed by the court. This is especially the case if the visiting parent has had a history of flight, violence, or any other actions that may jeopardize the safety of the child or the agreement. Supervised visitation is run through New Jersey's own supervised visitation program. The program itself has a number of centers that are available for use throughout the state. Each county in New Jersey has dedicated volunteers and supervised visitation centers that cater to their own residents. However, supervised visitation does not always need to be run by the state, and instead a parent that must be supervised can be under the supervision of a designated individual. These individuals are typically grandparents, extended family, or friends that are responsible for ensuring the child's safety and also that the custody agreement is being adhered to.
Enforcement Of Visitation Rights
A custody agreement and any visitation agreements mean nothing without consequences. This is where a person must take into account how visitation rights are enforced. There are a number of ways that visitation can be interfered with or prevented that infringe on a parent's rights to visitation, these include:
- Interfering With Visitation: Interfering with visitation can come in a number of forms, but it is typically actions that detract from one parent's ability to inhibit their dedicated time with the child. Disruptive behavior such as constant phone calls or arriving at the other parent's place of residence unannounced or uninvited. This can also include indirect things like purposefully scheduling a child's activities during another parent's visitation time.
- Denying Visitation: Outright denial of visitation can result in consequences. This can arise in situations where one parent is late on child support, and then the other parent feels the need to deprive them access to the children.
- Failure To Meet Visitation Obligations: Parents who are obligated for visitation cannot ignore their obligations. Doing so is a direct violation of the order, and can result in serious consequences.
If a parent fails to respect the other parent's visitation rights, then certain steps can be taken. The court will likely decide what the consequences of the actions are based upon the level of interference and how much harm was caused. Some potential consequences include:
- "Making up" visitation/parenting time: The court may order that a parent engages in made up time for what was missed or interfered with.
- Changing parenting time: Serious interference or disruptions may result in a full change in parenting time for one or both parents.
- Ordering costs of interference be repaid: If the interference has cost one of the parents unduly amounts of money, the court may order that these amounts are repaid.
- Contempt of Court Order: If disruptions are particularly egregious, they can be met with a contempt of court criminal charge. These can result in arrest warrants and jail time. Other criminal charges may also follow, such as kidnapping; which, as it sounds, is extremely serious.
- Changes to how the child may be retrieved: Sometimes there may be changes made to who may pick up the child for visitation, and where that child may be picked up.
- Loss of unsupervised privileges: In certain situations, if the disruptions to visitation have been particularly harmful, the disruptive parent may become restricted to supervised visitation altogether. This means that the disruptive parent will need to have all of their visitation either with a designated supervisor or at a supervised visitation center.
These consequences and more can result from a person's inability to adhere properly to a standing custody agreement. Some of these can result from a simple misunderstanding or a failure to properly communicate, while other times one parent can be genuinely malicious towards another. Every situation is different, however, when it comes to the safety of the child, sometimes the courtroom is the only option.
Contact a New Jersey Family Law Attorney
If you or a loved on is involved in a custody battle, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.