Dad’s Visitation Rights — A Surprise from a Judge
After mediation failed to produce an agreement about visitation, I recently sat through a court hearing to see what the judge would decide. The dad did not see his daughter for about four years because he was in jail. Then he saw her for a few hours every other weekend for about three months, occasionally missing a visit and occasionally, with the mother’s consent, having an extra long visit, including one overnight stay. The mom thought that the child was not yet consistently comfortable with the dad and should not be compelled to spend more than a few hours with him every other weekend. Later, when she knew him better, overnight visits could begin. The dad wanted the child to stay overnight on Saturdays, as his home was at least an hour’s drive from the mother’s. If he was going to spend so much time driving, he wanted more than a four-hour visit. In addition, he wanted the mom to do half of the driving. He didn’t think it was fair for him to have to do it all. The mom wanted him to do all the driving, as he had no other responsibilities and she had another young child to take care of and another baby on the way.
I had no guess about what the judge would decide. She listened to both parents and then gave the dad more than he had asked for: 48-hour weekend visits, not just one overnight, every other weekend, with the mother required to do half of the driving after she recovered from delivering her baby.
A different judge might have made a different decision. For all I know, the same judge on a different day might have made a different decision. The inference I drew was that the judge did not want to waste time. It’s your father, visits have been going pretty well, and you (the child) should get to know him. No one had suggested that the child was in any danger with the dad, so the judge saw no reason not to jump into an ordinary visitation schedule. And she ordered that, in a spirit of cooperation about supporting the child’s relationship with the other parent, the mom should do half of the driving.
I have had several cases this year in which the mother, who had sole custody, did not want to push a child to spend time with the dad because the child was angry at the dad or did not like the dad or just did not feel comfortable with the dad, but the dad wanted real visitation rights. I am getting the impression that a lot of judges agree with the dad in this situation. They want the custodial parent to communicate to the child that the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent is important.
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