How to Apply for Visitation Rights

By Anna Green

Father isolated from mother and children

Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

Visitation refers to the right of a noncustodial parent to spend time with her child. The exact procedures for applying for visitation vary between states, but typically a parent will need to ask the court to grant visitation rights. If parents can reach an agreement regarding visitation on their own, in most cases, the court will have only minimal involvement in the case. In contested visitation matters, the court may hold a trial to determine how visitation rights would affect the child.

Try to reach a mutually agreeable visitation arrangement. Before involving the court, if possible, work with the child’s custodian or other parent to establish a visitation schedule.

Outline the terms of your agreement in a petition for visitation rights. If you have reached an agreement with the child’s other parent, list the details of your agreement in a petition. If you were not able to reach an agreement, state this in your petition. Each state has its own requirements for formatting petitions for visitation rights. You can locate a template through your court clerk or an online legal document provider.

File the petition with the clerk of the court. If you have an existing custody agreement, in most instances, you will need to file your petition for visitation rights under the same docket or case number as the original custody or divorce case.

Serve the petition on the other parent. Although each state has different requirements for serving a petition, in many locations, you can serve legal documents using certified mail, a process server or a law enforcement officer.

Attend mediation. In some cases, the judge might request that parents attend mediation sessions facilitated by a neutral third-party professional so the judge will not need to adjudicate the case. If the parties cannot agree to a visitation arrangement during mediation, the judge will make a decision based on the evidence presented during the hearing.

Attend hearing on the case. At the hearing, the judge will review the petition and determine whether it is in the child’s best interest to have visitation with you. At the hearing, both you and the other parent will generally be allowed to present evidence supporting your cases. For example, you might present medical records, letters of reference or psychological evaluations attesting to your ability to maintain a healthy relationship with your child.

Fulfill any special requirements. In some cases, the court may request the petitioning parent complete parenting classes, therapy or other professional services before beginning visitation. In such instances, the parent will typically need to provide the court with written evidence verifying her compliance before the judge will permit the first visit.


If parents don't already have an existing custody order or divorce decree with provisions for visitation, they must start from the beginning and establish one with such terms. However, if parents do have an order or decree that includes provisions for visitation, either parent can change the terms by filing a petition or complaint for modification.


If you are unsure of your legal rights, seek professional assistance.