Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 6, 2012

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A child visitation plan, sometimes part of a parenting plan, is an important part of co-parenting. While issues of visitation and parenting plans arise frequently in divorce, they can also arise when two unmarried parents separate. These issues come up any time both parents want continued access to or custody of a child when those parents no longer reside together in the same home.

Child Visitation Plans and Parenting Plans

A child visitation plan may be created  as part of a parenting plan, which is a term used to describe a custody agreement established by parents outside of formal litigation. If the two parties involved get along well enough and are able to agree and compromise, parents can create a parenting plan wholly on their own. This plan will dictate how custody will be divided and the child visitation plan, if included as part of the parenting plan, will outline how and when the non-custodial parent has access to the child. The overall parenting plan may also include details about other aspects of the child’s ongoing care, such as a statement that both parents have the right to make legal and medical decisions regarding the child. When two parents are able to come to a parenting plan on their own, courts will generally approve this plan in order to finalize and formalize it. Once formal, it becomes legally binding just like any other custody agreement.

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Creating a Parenting Plan

Parents often are not able to come up with a parenting plan completely on their own, since acrimony is almost always common to some degree when a couple splits up. In such cases, courts still generally encourage parents to try to work things out without involving a court battle. Mediation is often recommended, and an independent third party mediator may help to facilitate discussion and allow the parents to agree. This is only an option, however, when the parents are committed to working together, since mediation is voluntary and either party can end the process at any time. A mediator will not issue a ruling or compel parties to agree, and in situations where there is abuse or a complete unwillingness to be reasonable, mediation is not going to be effective.

Establishing a Child Visitation Plan

Child visitation refers to the right of a non-custodial parent to have regular, scheduled time with the child. The parent who lives with the child full time is the custodial parent, and the non-custodial parent may be awarded child visitation on weekends, holidays, or some other specific time periods. Child visitation is almost always granted by the courts in the event that the parents do need to litigate the issue of custody, since it is widely believed to be in a child’s best interests to have both parents present to at least some extent, so it is usually better if parents agree on a child visitation plan that works for both parents in order to avoid a child visitation schedule that works for neither parent. If a parent wants visitation, this means he or she is likely going to get it unless there was a history of abuse or some other very compelling reason not to permit it.

Once a child visitation schedule/custody agreement is in place, it becomes legally binding. Parents must allow visitation as set forth in the custody agreement. This is true even if they established the child visitation plan and parenting plan themselves, as long as the plan has been made final and approved by the court.