Visitation – Common Questions

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What is visitation?

Visitation is the time that children spend with the parent who does not have residential custody. (Residential custody refers to the parent that the court says the child can live with.)

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Who can have visitation?

Parents who do not have residential custody can have visitation. Sometimes grandparents can also have a legal right to visitation. See: Visitation for grandparents.

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Does the other parent get visitation even if I have sole custody?

Yes. Unless the court thinks visitation would be harmful, the other parent can get visitation. In most cases, the court believes it is good for children to have time with both parents.

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What will the visitation schedule be?

In Kentucky, most courts follow guideline schedules for visitation. Guideline visitation is a legal term. It refers to pre-set schedules that the courts use to make visitation orders.

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Can I find out what the Kentucky guidelines are for my case?

Yes. Ask the clerk of the Circuit or Family Court in your county for a copy of the guidelines used in your case.

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How does the court decide on visitation?

The court can order any visitation schedule it considers best for the children, including:

  • A guideline schedule,
  • A schedule set by the court,
  • A specific schedule that the parents ask for, or
  • A flexible schedule that the parents decide on by themselves. (This is called reasonable visitation.)

All visitation orders must be reasonable for the circumstances of each case. To decide what is reasonable for your case, the judge will consider:

  • The age and health of each child,
  • Where the parents live, and who else lives in their households,
  • The size of the home and space available for the children, and
  • Other factors that will affect the children.

The judge will also consider if the parent asking for visitation has had any problems with:

  • Drugs or alcohol,
  • Domestic violence, or
  • Other behaviors that could harm the child.

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What if I think the visitation would be harmful to my child?

Ask the court for a hearing. At the hearing, you must prove to the court how the visitation would be harmful for your child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health.

If you can prove that visitation would be seriously harmful, the court may order:

  • Day visitation only, or
  • Supervised visitation. (This is when the child can visit the other parent only if another adult is present.)

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What if the visitation would put my child in immediate danger?

If you think your child would be in immediate danger, do not allow the visitation.

Here are some examples of immediate danger:

  • The visiting parent seems to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or
  • There is no child seat in the car your child would be in, if legally required for your child’s size and age.

Important! Later, you may have to prove to the court that you had good reasons to deny visitation. If you cannot prove it, the court may punish you. See: What if the other parent does not let me have visitation with my child?

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Do I have to let my toddler have overnight visitation with the other parent?

Yes, if the court believes it is in the best interests of the child. The court does not assume that a mother can care for a baby or young child better than a father.

But for children under two, the court does not usually favor long periods of visitation, such as an entire summer break.

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What if my child has never spent the night away from me?

You may ask the Court for a gradual “break-in period” so the child can get used to being away from you overnight or for longer periods of time.

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Can visitation be changed?

Yes. As the children grow older or the parents’ situations change, you may need to ask for new visitation orders. Either parent can ask to change visitation. The parent who wants to change the visitation must ask the court for a hearing. At the hearing, if you prove that a different visitation schedule would be in the child’s best interests, the court will make new orders.

If you have a case at court now involving the children, you can ask for a new visitation order as part of that case. If you are involved in a domestic violence case, you can ask the court to make visitation orders at your domestic violence hearing.

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Do I have to go to court to get a new visitation schedule?

No. In fact, it’s best if you and the other parent can agree on a new schedule on your own.

If you can agree, put it in writing. Both of you should sign the agreement. Then file a copy of your agreement with the court. If you do this, you do not have to go to court to ask to change the visitation schedule.

If you cannot agree about a new schedule, you must ask for a court hearing to change the schedule. Until the court changes your current visitation schedule, both parents must follow it.

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What if I have not visited my child for a while?

If you have not tried to visit in a long time, notify the other parent (in writing) that:

  • You want to start visitation again, and
  • The date you would like to start the visitation.

Keep a copy of your letter for your records.

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Do I have to visit as much as the court says I can?

No. If you do not want to visit, the court will not make you. But if you stop visiting, or visit less, it may be hard for you to get back to the original schedule if you change your mind later.

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Is it hard to get an order that limits the other parent’s visitation?

Yes. You must ask for a hearing. At the hearing, you would have to prove that limiting the other parent’s visitation is in the child’s best interests.

If the court agrees to limit visitation, it may order:

  • Supervised visitation,
  • Reduced visitation,
  • No visitation (very unusual),
  • Visitation only if the other parent finishes treatment or classes for addictions, anger management, mental illness, or other problems that could make visits harmful to the child, or
  • Visitation only if the other parent agrees to not use alcohol or drugs when the child is visiting. The court may also order random drug or alcohol testing.

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When would a court limit visitation?

Here are examples of cases in which the court might limit visitation:

  • A witness testifies at the hearing that s/he has personally seen the other parent (or someone who lives with the other parent):
    • Abuse the child, or
    • Use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol in front of the child during visitation.
  • You show the court certified medical records that say the child was injured or sexually abused by the other parent (or someone who lives with the other parent).
  • You show the court records of the other parent’s criminal convictions (or someone who lives with the other parent) that did not exist, or you did not know about, when the original visitation order was made.
  • The child’s doctor, mental health provider, teacher, or behavior therapist testifies in court that visits with the other parent have a negative effect on the child.
  • You have certified school records, such as attendance or report cards, showing that visits with the other parent have a negative effect on the child’s school performance during or after visitation.

Your evidence must be about behaviors or problems that happened after the court made the current visitation order. You will not be able to testify about things that happened before your visitation was made, unless you did not know about them at that time.

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What if I die? Will the other parent get custody?

It depends on many things, including:

  • The kind of custody order you have now, and
  • The individual facts of your case.

If you die, and your surviving family members or friends know that you were worried about your child’s safety, they should talk to a lawyer right away. The court can review the case on an emergency basis.

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What if the other parent does not let me have visitation with my child?

Both parents must obey the court’s visitation order. If the other parent does not obey the order, you can ask the court for a special hearing, called a contempt hearing.

At the contempt hearing, you must prove to the court that the other parent is not following the order. If the court agrees with you, the judge may do any of these things:

  • Warn the other parent to obey the visitation order.
  • Make the other parent pay your court fees and lawyer’s fees for the contempt hearing.
  • Make the other parent give you extra time to make up for missed visitation.
  • Put the other parent in jail for disobeying the order.

Important! Even if the other parent disobeys the visitation order, you must still make all child support payments.

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How do I ask for a contempt hearing?

First, read your visitation order carefully. If your current order is for visitation at “reasonable times,” it is unlikely that the court will find the other parent in contempt. You should ask the Court for a set schedule.

If the other parent does not follow the set schedule, you can ask for a contempt hearing. To do this, you must fill out and file court papers. Ask the clerk for a pro se motion form. You can also ask a lawyer to file papers for you.

See: Do I have to go to court to get a new visitation schedule?

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How can we make visitation work smoothly?

Here are some suggestions to make visitation work smoothly:

  • Mark your visitation schedule on a calendar, and be on time for every visit.
  • If you know ahead of time that you will be late or unable to go, tell the other parent as soon as possible.
  • If you have to change the schedule, let the other parent know in writing. Also ask the other parent to confirm the change by a certain date.
  • Keep copies of all letters or emails you and the other parent send to each other about visitation.
  • Even if visitation does not work at first, do not give up. It’s best for the child if you and the other parent can find a way to make it work. Keep a record of any problems with visitation. There may be a pattern that a schedule change could fix.

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Reviewed August 2009