Topics on this page
- What is visitation?
- How do you determine a visitation schedule?
- Who can be awarded visitation?
- When can visitation be denied?
- Are visitation rights contingent on the payment of child support and vice versa?
- When is supervised visitation or monitored exchanges appropriate?
- How do I arrange supervised visitation or monitored exchange services?
What is visitation?
Visitation is time scheduled between a child and the parent (or third party) who does not maintain the primary residence for the child. Visitation arrangements can include:
- a flexible visitation schedule;
- reasonable visitation as determined by the custodial parent;
- a structured visitation schedule to include holidays, weekends, and summer vacations; and
- supervised visitation.
If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent has the authority to make long-term decisions regarding the child's health, education, religious upbringing, care, and welfare. A parent who does not have legal custody should not attempt to subvert those decisions during scheduled visitation. For example, if the parent with legal custody has decided to raise the child in the Jewish tradition, the parent with visitation rights should not take the child to be baptized in a Catholic church.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law Title 9
How do you determine a visitation schedule?
The courts encourage parents to work together to determine a visitation schedule that is in the child's best interests. Factors such as school and work schedules, family traditions, the distance between the parent’s homes, other siblings and family members, health requirements, and other personal issues affect each visitation schedule uniquely. If parents cannot work together to set a schedule that will benefit the child’s needs and accommodate the parents’ schedules, the courts have mediation resources available to assist. Court-certified mediators are available in every county to provide neutral assistance to allow the parents to meet their child's needs.
Who can be awarded visitation?
A biological parent can be awarded visitation. Additionally, grandparents (even when the parents weren't married or are not currently divorced) and step-parents may be awarded visitation rights. It may be difficult for grandparents or other third parties to receive court-ordered visitation. It will depend on the facts of the case. While there are no reported cases of brothers or sisters being given visitation, a strong argument could be made that it would be in the best interest of the child. Learn more about visitation and custody rights of non-parents.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 9-102
When can visitation be denied?
The court has the power to deny visitation to a parent if visitation would place the child in an unsafe situation. Any situation that poses a danger to the child must be brought to the attention of the court and other appropriate agencies. Normally, the court will only stop visitation for a certain time or until a certain task is performed.
The court will also deny visitation in other specific circumstances. For example, if the requesting parent were found to be guilty of murder of the other parent, the court would probably deny visitation rights to that parent.
Recommendation: If the court has awarded you visitation rights, and the parent with primary custody denies the court ordered visitation, you should consider filing an action for contempt of a court order and/or modification of the existing order.
Read the law: Md. Code, Family Law § 9-105
Are visitation rights contingent on the payment of child support and vice versa?
No. Court ordered visitation rights may not be denied to a non-custodial parent, even though the non-custodial parent is not paying child support. However, a parent who has been denied visitation does not have the right to stop paying court ordered child support. Not following court orders will place you in contempt and will only get you in trouble with the possibility of jail time.
Read the case: Stancill v. Stancill, 286 Md. 530 (Court of Appeals 1979)
When is supervised visitation or monitored exchanges appropriate?
In emotionally charged situations of separation or divorce, parents with children may need help from an impartial third party to determine visitation arrangements. In most cases, children want to maintain connections with both of their parents. This consideration should guide parents’ decisions about visitation arrangements. When a parent demonstrates a genuine commitment to maintaining a relationship with their child, courts are unlikely to revoke their visitation rights. In potentially volatile situations, options such as supervised visitation or closely monitored exchanges should be considered.
Supervised visitation and monitored exchanges help children have safe contact with their parents and minimize their exposure to conflict. These visitation arrangements are tools to help your family through a difficult, transitional time. Having a third party involved can make everyone more comfortable and adds a layer of security
Supervised visitation is visitation monitored by a third party. Supervised visitation can be used in situations in which a parent:
- is working to improve parenting skills;
- has not seen the child in a long time;
- has a substance use disorder or mental health issue that might interfere with their ability to parent;
- has a history of being abusive or trouble controlling anger; or
- has acted inappropriately with a child.
When necessary, the party supervising the visitation may intervene to ensure appropriate parent/child interactions.
Monitored exchanges allow a child to be transferred from one parent to the other without the parents having contact. Unlike supervised visitation, the only thing that is supervised is the exchange, not the parent’s time with their child. Monitored exchanges are helpful if one parent feels unsafe or uncomfortable being around the other parent. It also protects children from unhealthy interactions and conflict.
Monitored exchanges may be useful in any of the situations described above, particularly if the parent who does not have primary custody completed treatment and is ready for unsupervised visits. Monitored exchanges may also be helpful when parents separate and find themselves arguing or when there is a history of domestic violence. If any violence was directed at the child, supervised visitation may be most appropriate.
Monitored exchange occurs at a pre-arranged time at a neutral location. In many cases, staggered pick-up and drop-off times are arranged so that the parents do not have to be in contact with one another. The actual exchange is monitored by a third party who helps ease the process for the child.
Family Services: Supervised Visitation and Monitored Exchanges from the Maryland Courts
How do I arrange supervised visitation or monitored exchange services?
Supervised visitation and monitored exchange arrangements can be informal or ordered by the court. In an informal arrangement, you and the other party independently agree to supervised visitation or monitored exchanges without the court’s intervention. For example, you and the other party agree that a mutual friend will supervise visits or that exchanges will occur at your child’s daycare, under the supervision of daycare center staff.
If the court orders supervised visitation or monitored exchange arrangements, the court may direct you to work through a supervised visitation center (sometimes called an Access Center). The center will coordinate supervised visits and monitored exchanges. Parents will need to attend an orientation session before being provided services. The session will cover the center’s rules and guidelines.
NOTE: There may be fees for supervised visitation or monitored exchanges services through a center. Fee waivers are available for people who qualify based on income.