Understanding visitation arrangements


I attend a lot of children and family ministry conferences. I’m also part of several KidMin Facebook pages so I get a lot of questions about children of divorce. Here are three questions children’s pastors asked about visitation issues.

I understand the ‘every other weekend’ visitation schedule. I understand a child visiting the other parent on holidays and during the summer. But we have kids in our church whose attendance is so sporadic. We never know when they are going to show up.

We have custodial parents who say they have custody but they come to us with horrific tales of woe. Things like the other parent won’t return the child on time. Or they don’t show up or call leaving an angry and crying child for the weekend. They refuse to pay their child support. Can all of this really be happening?

We have kids who say they live with the other parent every other week. How do these kids adjust? Do the parents cooperate on schedules like bed times, homework and anything?

Yes, all of this can really be happening. Gone are the days when a couple went before a judge to get a divorce and he or she made a decree that stood the test of time and was in the best interest of the child.

The family courts today are overwhelmed with divorce, child custody and child support issues. Unfortunately there are no easy answers.

Complex divorce issues

One of the issues we are seeing is the refusal of one or both parties to abide by the court’s ruling.

  • Non-custodial parent refuses to bring the child home on time, not just once or twice or just an hour but all the time and sometimes a couple of days late.
  • Other parent refuses to pay child support even though they have been taken back to court.
  • Custodial parent gets child support raised but doesn’t see a dime of it for years.
  • Parent shows up at school to pick up the child when it isn’t their day.
  • Other parent refuses to sign travel request for one-week vacation out of state.
  • Parent wants to take the children out of the U.S. for a month. The judge refuses to grant this request but the parent does it anyway.
  • The child is not supposed to be around the other parent’s girlfriend but he leaves them alone with her for the entire weekend. (Or she leaves the kids alone with the boyfriend.)

The list is endless. It goes on and on and the single parent who is trying to follow the ruling is many times left with no help from the courts. It’s not just a few situations but it is happening all over our country.

Lawyers, mediators and judges are still trying to abide by conditions set forth years ago. In other situations judges are inundated with so many cases they can’t even begin to think through each child’s situation. Many of their cases just don’t seem to have a soluble answer for all concerned.

  • Every state has its own laws and ways of treating these issues.
  • Sometimes there are even variances to regulations at the county level. So a lot depends on where you live.
  • Many judges won’t hear a case until both parties have been involved in mediation.

In my area in one county family courts are automatically assigning the child to both parents with equal time at each parents. It’s called “shared parenting” or “co-parenting.” Sometimes the parents live two hours apart. The county next to where I live, doesn’t think “shared parenting” is in the best interest of the child so these judges, for the most part, will not allow shared parenting. Keep in mind, I’m in a large military area with five different bases where military are coming and going and being deployed all the time. Our church has kids attending from several counties. It is a logistical nightmare trying to figure out visitation schedules.

Co-parenting has a lot of issues. Some shared and co-parenting situations hurt the children. Understanding co-parenting will help you as you minister to both child and the single parent who attends your church.

In the article from the Tampa Bay Times it states, “Family law remains a complex and difficult cauldron, filled with envy, anger and disillusionment. It’s an issue that cries out for a movement: lobbying and legislative action to raise compliance, not just to protect custodial rights but to give children a chance to be more than pawns in an ugly game of tug-of-war. In the end, it’s the kids who get hurt the most. They need a society willing to fight for them.”

The children also need a church who will be there for them and who will love them through this horrific time in their life. Perhaps they only come sporadically and it’s hard to get to know them. Assign a special person or couple who can mentor them and give them a call every so often. Perhaps they do come on a consistent schedule but their consistent schedule is only the first and third Sundays of the month. Remember them on the second and fourth Sundays and pray for them.

I ministered to one single mom whose ex simply refused to pay child support. He refused to follow the visitation schedule. He refused almost every issue she and the child were awarded. There were no repercussions from the judge except a slap on the hand. He took her back to court and did not show up for the case. He called in on his cell. He won. A case that was allotted two hours was over in twenty minutes leaving a stunned single mom.

It is important to try and understand the visitation schedule if possible. Keep the lines of communication open between  you and the parent so when things change you can be aware.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on Sept 29, 2014.

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