Visitation rights are normally granted to the non-custodial parent upon the final determination in a divorce or child custody proceeding. Although visitation rights are normally dealt with simultaneously with custody issues, visitation is not the same thing as custody. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-22(a).
Visitation, otherwise known as parenting time, includes set times during which a non-custodial parent may visit, either individually or in a supervised setting, with their minor child or children. This time normally is limited to certain intervals such as weeknights and weekends.
It is Georgia’s public policy to ensure continuous contact between children and their parents.O.C.G.A. 19-9-3(d). It rarely occurs that a court will deny a non-custodial parent visitation. However, if a court finds that it would be injurious to a child or not in a child’s best interest to have contact with the non-custodial parent, the court can deny visitation. This denial normally only occurs as a result of exceptional circumstances such as when the non-custodial parent is unfit or if the child’s best interests would be harmed by having contact with the non-custodial parent. See Schowe v. Amster, 236 Ga. 720 (1976) and Shook v. Shook, 242 Ga. 55 (1978).
Like other matters concerning child custody, the parents may come to an agreement between themselves regarding visitation. Parents submit such an agreement to the court for approval and incorporation into the court’s final order regarding child custody or final judgment and decree of divorce. In so doing, the visitation agreement may be enforced by the parents by virtue of the court’s order. Please note that the visitation agreement must comport with Georgia’s public policy concerning custody and visitation. Truman v. Boleman, 235 Ga.App 243 (1998).
Sometimes, the parents may choose to make an agreement between themselves without judicial incorporation. If this is done, the parents can agree to whatever they want concerning visitation. However, in the event these plans do not work out, please understand that the court can only enforce the formal custody arrangement entered into between the parties, not the informal one that was not incorporated into a final judgment and decree.
If visitation has been court ordered in a case, if either parent violates that court order, he or she may be held in contempt of court, and punished accordingly. Griggers v. Bryant, 239 Ga. 244 (1977). This punishment may include fines or even jail time. Therefore, it is important to honor any court order concerning child custody or visitation. If the circumstance of either you or your child have changed such that the court’s order no longer fits your needs, seek a modification of child custody or visitation. See our sections concerning child custody modification for more information.