What Are Step-Up Rights in Child Custody?

By Kimberly Turtenwald

Updated November 15, 2017

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Child custody cases are all about what's best for the children involved. When a court order is established, it's generally meant to last until the child is 18 years old. But if your children are young when you go through a custody hearing, or if your child is unfamiliar with his other parent, a different type of custody arrangement might be more suitable, one that's created as a step-up plan.

What Is It?

Step-up visitation allows a child to become more familiar with a parent she doesn't know before a full-fledged visitation or custody schedule is implemented. It allows for an increase in visitation over time and as she gets older.

A court often uses this type of plan with a young child, especially an infant, or when one parent must meet specific guidelines before getting more visitation. It might also be used when the parents weren't married and the child has not spent much time with her other parent. This type of plan reduces the time and money spent on modifying a custody order in the future as parents and children adapt and circumstances change.

The First Steps

The early stages of step-up visitation rights are usually dictated by the age of the child and the circumstances. If the child is an infant or toddler, the non-custodial parent might get several shorter periods of visitation during the week, especially if the custodial parent is the mother and she's breastfeeding. If the child is older or abuse has been involved, the court might begin with supervised visitation for a while to allow the child to get to know his other parent without being left alone with him. A third party adult would always be present during periods of contact between the non-custodial parent and the child.

Moving Up

The next stage begins after the circumstances that were dealt with in the first stages have been addressed. This time period might also be directly related to the age of the child, or it might be connected to actions taken by the non-custodial parent. As long as the appropriate amount of time has passed or the appropriate actions have been taken, the custodial parent has no right to deny the next stage of visitation to the non-custodial parent.

Failure to Comply

A court does not rule for a step-up visitation plan unless there is a good reason for it, but some parents who are placed into this type of plan don't understand that the court sees this as the best thing for the child. They might refuse to accept the plan. The custodial parent might think that the visitation plan is inappropriate.

If either parent decides that they don't want to follow the step-up visitation plan, he or she must petition the court to change it. Until the court rules otherwise, it is the right of the non-custodial parent to have access to children based on the step-up plan.