Few adults enjoy ceding power they once wielded with gusto. For Virginia Moms and Dads, giving up decision-making power over your own children is one of the worst aspects of child custody and visitation. This is why, for many Virginia fathers, “reasonable visitation” is a welcome concept. Though (like most legal tangles) it is not without flaws, reasonable visitation returns the power in the family dynamic back to the family.
Reasonable Visitation by Mutual Consent
Imagine standing before a Virginia Circuit Court judge, knowing the future of your relationship is in her or his hands. You’re nervous — who are we kidding? You are petrified — that the judge will rule you can see little Dottie and Dougie for all of two hours a month. The room is stifling. You hear a buzzing in your ears. Your tie is too tight.
Then, from on high (judge’s benches are usually “above it all”), you hear those weird, wonderful words: “reasonable visitation by mutual consent.” What does that even mean?
It means you and your wife work out, on your own like two adults, what will work best for each of you and for your children. It means you are expected to be honorable, mature, and, well, parent-like in keeping the best interests of your children at the forefront of your plans.
The Court is Trusting You
Reasonable visitation, says the American Bar Association (ABA), is not for contested divorces or hotly debated custody or paternity cases. The alternative, says the ABA, is structured visitation. It sets a minimum of visitation rights for the non-custodial parent.
The court, in decreeing “reasonable visitation by mutual consent,” is trusting you and your ex-wife to decide.
The Structured Visitation Arrangement Backup
The details of parenting time or visitation are usually spelled out in the property settlement agreement. An excellent backup system that can be incorporated into your property settlement agreement is a structured visitation arrangement that kicks into gear if the “reasonable visitation” does not work:
If the two parties disagree as to the practicality and execution of reasonable visitation, the following schedule shall apply:
- Every other weekend from 6:00 o’clock Friday until 6:00 Sunday.
- December 25 at noon until December 30 at 6:00 o’clock p.m. of every year.
- Alternating Thanksgiving and Easter holidays.
- Four weeks in the summer if notice is given to mother not later than April 1.
- Father’s Day of each year regardless of whether it is his weekend or not.
Only you and your ex-wife can determine the tipping point for shifting from “reasonable visitation” to “scheduled visitation.” If at all possible, demonstrate to the Circuit Court that the judge’s trust in you is well placed. You regained power over your own children; losing it again because you and your ex-wife could not communicate is, well, sad. Just sad.
Recognizing the Heffalump
Winnie the Pooh’s mythical heffalump was something more described than seen. We can provide a description of reasonable visitation, but what should you expect? That is, what will it look like? More to the point, what will a subversion of the judge’s orders look like?
Consider the word “reasonable.” It is a wildly subjective word, but suppose you and your ex-wife worked out that you two would meet on Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. at the JEB Little Creek Gator Bowl bowling alley in Virginia Beach, so she can give you Dougie and Dottie for the weekend, to have them back Sunday at 6:00 p.m.
She shows at 7:23 p.m. and announces that you need to be reasonable; something came up, and while you can have the kids overnight, she needs you to meet her at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning and, be reasonable, what’s the big deal, she’ll give you more time another weekend.
Suck it up, Buttercup, she says, have them ready. Better yet, meet her at the Soaps N Suds Express Laundry Center and the kids better be fed and clean. And she doesn’t mean the Virginia Beach Soaps N Suds. The Williamsburg one. Buttercup.
Okay, now do you see the heffalump? What part of her demands and changes was reasonable? None of it was reasonable. And you need not tolerate that, since no judge would declare it reasonable either.
Keep Our Number Handy, Okay?
This is why, with “reasonable visitation,” it takes very little to ruin the fun for everyone. Keep your attorney’s telephone number handy. When you need backup, you need backup. It makes you no less a man to remind your wife you are happy to call on your family law attorney as reinforcement.
In most cases, she will push you to see what you will take, and the polite but assertive reminder of your lawyer standing in the wings will be enough to get her back to “reasonable.”
If your ex-wife has physical custody of your children, she is already in a more powerful position than you. Your attorney may point that out to the judge during the decree phase of your divorce (or the child visitation arrangements, if you two were never married). The judge may not be much moved by that, but a time will come. Later.
Later, after you struggle to maintain the “reasonable” part of the visitation schedule, your wife is bound to want something. Something legal. That is your opportunity to revisit the issue in court.
Bring evidence of her unreasonable power plays, her refusal to give you the time, flexibility or opportunities to be with your own children. Demonstrate to the same judge that she is being malicious and see if the judge entertains any requests from her. (Spoiler: judges really dislike being disrespected, so they tend to dispense dismaying dissents to disobedient distaffs.)
With the right attorney at your side, that new petition could work out very well for you, in the form of a structured visitation schedule that gives you even more time with your children, on your schedule.
You want to be the more reasonable parent to the Virginia judge. Allow your attorney to be inventive, offering “virtual visitation,” creative schedules, and asymmetric arrangements. Maybe you do not end up with every other weekend. Maybe you have them for two weeks, then she has them three weeks, then you get them a week, and she has them two weeks; do what works for you. And, if possible, do what works for both of you!
Bent is Better Than Fixed
If at all possible, avoid the unpleasant “fixed visitation” schedule. Being bent out of shape a bit by her creative interpretation of “reasonable,” or you asking her to bend to your schedule changes, can be far better than a fixed visitation schedule.
The fixed schedule could be handed down by the judge and be so severe, so restrictive, that any quality time with your kids is gone. Fixed schedules can dictate not only times, but places. Places like Virginia Social Services offices. Places like your attorney’s conference room. Yuck.
For help with child visitation, reasonable schedules and more, turn to The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, or consider contacting us online. We are here to help Virginia’s men keep strong bonds with their children, no matter the schedules, hurdles, or heffalumps encountered.