What happens when a parent that voluntarily abandoned his or her family and children suddenly wants back into the children's lives? Do you have to give visitation to someone that's run out on your children once already?
Visitation is usually based on the "best interests" of the children.
Each state has different rules regarding visitation, but all of them take into consideration what's best for the children. Usually, the courts consider it beneficial for children to know and spend time with both of their parents, but judges are given broad discretionary powers about how to divide up that time - or even whether or not to grant it at all.
In some cases, the court may determine that it isn't appropriate to grant visitation at all, but you should be aware that most courts will allow a parent who has been absent a chance to build the parent-child relationship.
Is there anything that you can do to stop visitation from being awarded?
Generally speaking, you have two options: you can either fight the request for visitation entirely or ask the court to sharply limit it. It's generally easier to request that the court limit visitation.
If the other parent has been absent for a long time, the court may readily agree that only supervised visitation be granted - in most states, the parent who receives supervised visitation has to have a social worker present when he or she is with the child and will have to pay for those services.
If you really believe that resuming contact with the other parent will be detrimental to your children, then you can ask the court to deny visitation. The best way to be successful is to provide the court with some evidence that supports your beliefs. For example, the court can look at:
the mental or emotional state of the parent. If he or she has a mental disorder that's untreated or not under control, that could be sufficient reason to bar contact with the children.
a history of physical, sexual, or mental abuse by the parent.
evidence that the parent is an addict or alcoholic.
evidence from a psychologist that states that the children would be unduly distressed or psychologically harmed by having to resume a relationship with the parent.
What if the other parent is a criminal or has failed to pay child support?
A criminal history isn't usually enough reason for a court to refuse a parent all visitation. If the lack of contact between your children and their other parent was due to his or her incarceration, the court will generally not even consider that willful abandonment.
However, his or her criminal history is generally a good reason to argue for supervised visitation. You can always argue that his or her past criminal behavior shows a lack of maturity or responsibility that should be taken into consideration.
A failure to pay child support during the time he or she was absent is also not enough to cause the courts to deny visitation. Many parents don't realize it, but visitation and child support are not tied together - otherwise it would be the equivalent of ordering a parent to pay to see his or her own children!
Keep in mind, however, that now that the parent has returned, you can ask the courts (in a separate motion) to order child support to either begin or resume.
If you find yourself in a situation where your child's long-absent other parent is suddenly back on your doorstep and demanding visitation, contact a family law attorney right away.