Child Visitation and Mediation

  1. My parents want to be sure they see their grandchildren.Since I'm going to be out of the country, and my childrenwill be living with my ex-spouse, how am I going to arrange this?
  2. If one of us remarries, how does that affect custody andvisitation?
  3. What if my spouse wants to move away with our children?
  4. Our child will be traveling between coasts for visitationwith my former spouse. What do we need in the agreement?
  5. I'm worried that my spouse will leave town with our childwithout my permission. What can I negotiate in our agreement to prevent this?
  6. We have a special-needs child. How does this affect theagreement?

Q.1 My parents want to be sure they see their grandchildren. Since I'm going to be out of the country, and my children will be living with my ex-spouse, how am I going toarrange for this?

You are referring to grandparents' visitation. Since most states have some form of visitation rights for grandparents, we recommend that you provide for grandparents' visitation in your agreement.

The areas for mediation include:

  • Whether visitation should be at a definite time each year
  • How long visitation should last (this may vary with the age of your child)
  • Where the visits should take place
  • Who pays for transportation, and whether it will be included as part of the visitation period

If you become concerned that these visits are harmful to your children, or if either set of grandparents attempts to sabotage the relationship between your children and one of their parents, you can return to mediation to have the visitation arrangement changed.

Q.2 If one of us remarries, how does that affect custodyand visitation?

Spouses often worry about each other's ability to be a good parent, and they wonder what it would be like for the childrenin the event a new partner appears on the scene. Custody and visitation should not be affected by the remarriage unless you can prove that the new spouse is abusive or harmful to your children, or unless you and your former spouse decide to mediate new arrangements.

Q.3 What if my spouse wants to move away with our children?

This is a difficult problem because both of you want to spend timewith your children. In mediation we try to help you arrive at a fair solution.

Each of you has legitimate concerns. If your former spouse wants to relocate and you rely on a weekly visitation schedule, you may be concerned about having significantly less contact with your children, a loss of bonding, and less opportunity to be involved in your children's development.

If your children live with you and you want to relocate, you may not be totally free to do so. Unless your former spouse agrees, you may be restricted from moving to take a better job, improve your quality of life, or join your new spouse.

If you don't use mediation, you will find that most judges limit the custodial parent's freedom to move to a specific in-state area. States vary considerably regarding circumstances that would permit out-of-state moves.

Your agreement should include a description of the possible circumstances under which you would agree to an out-of-state move (see box).

Q.4 Our child will be traveling between coasts for visitation with my former spouse. What do we need in the agreement?

Agreements vary on these details, but a variety of commonsense issues need to be thought out and anticipated, depending on the age of your child, your personal preferences, and on airline rules. Let's take a look at some of them:

  • Will someone have to travel with your child?
  • Who will meet your child upon his or her arrival?
  • Who will pay for traveling and other arrangements?
  • Who makes the travel arrangements?

As your child matures, you may agree to longer visits to your former spouse. Parents frequently agree that short visits may begin after age five or six, and by age eight or nine, the child may stay away for the summer or other long school vacations.

Q.5 I'm worried that my spouse will leave town with our child without my permission. What can I negotiate inour agreement to prevent this?

Most couples who live in the same community agree in mediation that out-of-town visits are planned well in advance, and are limited to short periods of time. Requirements for advance notice and permission are written into the agreement, and out-of-country visits require more advance notice and more details about the plans. Arrangements are made in advance about regular communication between the stay-at-home parent and the child to alleviate anxiety for everyone—phone calls, e-mail, contacts with relatives in the area where the child is visiting.

But if you're concerned that your spouse has the potential to take your child to live elsewhere without permission, then you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your spouse have the resources to managefinancially in a different city?
  • Are there family members or other sources ofsupport in another city or country that offer the additional attraction of emotional and socialsupport?
  • Does your spouse seem vague and noncommittalwhen you try to discuss parenting arrangements, as though he might have a different agenda?

Under these circumstances, you should both meet with a mediator to discuss your concerns, explore potential problems, and find ways to provide reassurance.

Parents may feel more comfortable under these circumstances by providing for the following:

Older children can be taught to recognize signs of trouble and to take appropriate action.

  • Your child's passport can be kept in a safe place.
  • Visits can be supervised, or the presence of a thirdparty can be required.
  • You can add a condition in your settlement agreement requiring family or couples counseling where your former spouse and involved friends and relatives can be educated about the abduction laws and the consequences of aiding a custody violation.
  • Your former spouse can be required to arrange a substantial financial guarantee if he or she wishes to leave the immediate area with your child.

You may agree not to allow visits out of the country without both parents' approval, and the child's passport can be kept by the parent who is concerned about the possible custody violation.

If your spouse is emotionally disturbed and, in your opinion, poses a danger to your child, mediation is not the place to start. You need to have a psychiatric or psychological evaluation of your spouse and, using the information from the evaluation, develop a plan to protect your child, using the authority of the court to assist you. See also Question 15: What if my spouse wants to move away with our children?

Your fears about your former spouse taking away the children may be partially an expression of your anxiety about separating from them. Some anxiety is normal, but it may be heightened because of the emotional stress of the divorce. You can arrange regular contactwith your children when they are away, such as daily e-mail or a prearranged maximum number of hours between phone calls. Get the phone numbers of nearby relatives and friends, if possible, so that you have the resources to help you locate and make contact with your children without having to wait for them to contact you.

Q.6 We have a special-needs child. How does this affectthe agreement?

If your child has special needs because of an illness or a disability, you need to consider the following in mediation:

  • Do both of you have adequate child care arrangements for when your child is living with you orvisiting?
  • Which of you will escort or arrange for a caretakerto escort your child to medical appointments and to therapy?
  • How will decisions be made concerning education, tutoring, and schools?
  • How will decisions be made concerning medical procedures?
  • Who will pay what percentage of the additional costs of education, therapy, or medical procedures?
  • What public funding or scholarships will be affected by your financial arrangements and by any agreement you make concerning your will orlife insurance?
  • Do you need additional medical insurance for yourchild and additional life insurance for both of you?