How Much Contact Should a Father Have?

A noncustodial father’s child visitation rights are determined by the circumstances of each case, such as:

How Much Contact Should a Father Have?
  • Is there a court order granting him visitation rights?
  • Is there no court order?
  • Is there evidence against the father of abuse/violence?
  • Does the child not wish to meet the father?
  • Is the father unmarried?

Visitation rights or ordered parent-time ultimately decide how much contact a father can have with the child. If you, the mother, are the custodial parent, then the courts are likely to award visitation rights to the father, the noncustodial parent, after taking into consideration the best interests of the child. The visitation rights are awarded during your divorce or after child custody hearings.

Here is how different circumstances impact a noncustodial father’s visitation rights:

Is there a court order granting him visitation rights?

The court issues an order specifying parent-time when the parents cannot mutually agree upon a visiting schedule. This court-ordered visitation schedule is obligatory for both parents to follow. To illustrate, the state of Utah provides different visitation schedules based on the child’s age – it provides schedules for children aged less than 5 years and children aged between 5 and 18 years. Like Utah, other states have their own rules which you can clarify with your family law attorney.

Assuming you get primary or sole physical custody, the state’s courts generally consider the following factors before awarding visitation rights to the father:

  • Can the father’s visit endanger the child physically or emotionally?
  • Has the father inflicted domestic violence or abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) on the child, you, or any family member?
  • What’s the distance between the residence of the father and the child?
  • Has the father neglected the child in the past, and has that neglect harmed the child physically or emotionally?
  • Does the father have adequate parenting skills to ensure the child’s well-being during the visitation?
  • Has the father missed out on the visitation schedule in the past?
  • What’s the extent of bonding between the father and the child?
  • How is the father’s physical and mental health?
  • Is there any other consideration that works in the best interests of the child?

After reviewing the circumstances of the case, the courts order a visitation schedule. It can be supervised if the situation calls for it, but that rarely happens.

This visitation schedule is a court order, and you are required to follow it and grant access to the father according to the schedule. Intentionally disobeying the court’s order is contempt, and if you are guilty of contempt, you can be made to pay a penalty, perform community service, attend parenting classes, pay the father’s attorney’s fees, and even face imprisonment. Moreover, the courts can decide to review and change your child custody order.

Is there no court order?

You and your spouse can informally work out a visitation schedule in the absence of a court order. You will want the court to validate this mutual agreement and officially convert it into a court-ordered visitation schedule.

Even in the absence of a court order, you cannot stop the father from having visitation with the child unless you have strong evidence that proves that visitation will harm the child emotionally or physically, or adversely impact the best interests of the child in a very serious way. That is because, under normal circumstances, the courts believe that each parent should support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent as it is in the child’s best interests.

If you deny access to the father, he may drag you to court and allege that you are being unreasonable and cruel in denying him any contact with the child. These allegations can create a bias against you in the custody case that follows.

We suggest that you should respect the father’s visitation plans, minimize any problems, communicate efficiently, reliably, and honestly, and then work out a visitation schedule in the best interests of the child while the custody case is being heard by the courts.

Is there evidence against the father of abuse/violence?

If you have reliable and convincing evidence that the father has been abusive or violent in the past to you or the child, or has engaged in criminal acts, or has a clear plan to kidnap the child, and that any contact with him has the potential to harm the child physically or emotionally, or is otherwise not in the best interests of the child, then the courts can deny visitation rights to the father. However, denial of visitation rights by the courts is a rare occurrence.

Do note that immediately after stopping the father from seeing your child, you should contact your family law attorney and file for child custody and visitation orders.

Does the child not wish to meet the father?

If the child does not wish to meet the father, you still need to comply with a court-ordered visitation schedule. That is because the law believes that each parent has the right to repair his/her relationship with the child.

Is the father unmarried?

An unmarried father may not be able to claim visitation rights unless he has voluntarily acknowledged the paternity of the child in writing. Many U.S. state laws allow unmarried fathers to voluntarily acknowledge paternity and change their status to an “acknowledged father” so that they can claim parental rights in case of separation, just like a legal biological father.

If the court has granted visitation rights to a person who is considered a “father” in the eyes of the law, you cannot prevent him from seeing the child. If you do, you violate the court order and can be held in contempt.

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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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