Iowa Code Sections 598.1(1) and 598.41(1) provide that, except in unusual circumstances,the best interests of the child require the “maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents”. Thus, Iowa courts have considered liberal visitation rights to be in a child’s best interest, and courts are encouraged to avoid restrictions or conditions on a parent’s opportunity for continuing contact with a child following the dissolution of his or her parents. In re Marriage of Rykhoek, 525N.W.2d 1, 4 (Iowa Ct. App. 1994).
The court must balance the need for significant contact between the child and the noncustodial parent against the disruption to the child that can be caused by excessive visitation. See In re Marriage of Weidner, 338 N.W.2d 351, 359 (Iowa 1983). “Visitation should include not only weekend time, but time during the week when not disruptive to allow the noncustodial parent the chance to become involved in the child’s day-to-day activity as well as weekend fun.” In re Marriage of Ertmann, 376 N.W.2d 918, 922 (Iowa Ct. App. 1985); In re Marriage of Toedter, 473 N.W.2d 233 (Iowa App. 1991) (holding that the noncustodial parent is entitled to midweek overnight visitation with a child in addition to alternate weekends). Typically, court orders encourage parents to grant more than the minimum level of visitation set by the visitation order.
The Iowa Bar Association has published a recommendation for what language should be contained in standard visitation orders. Their guidelines are helpful in understanding the responsibilities of both the custodial and non-custodial parents in carrying out a visitation plan. Their recommendation follows:
Iowa Bar Suggested Guidelines for Custody and Visitation Orders
As used herein, the term “custodial parent” means the parent awarded physical care of the children.
- The custodial parent shall take the necessary action with the school authorities of the schools in which they are enrolled to:
- List the noncustodial parent as a parent of the children.
- Authorize the school to release to the noncustodial parent any and all information concerning the children.
- Insure that the noncustodial parent receives copies of any notices regarding the children.
- The custodial parent shall promptly transmit to the noncustodial parent any information received concerning parent-teacher meetings, school club meetings, school programs, athletic schedules and any other school activities in which the children may be engaged or interested.
- The custodial parent shall promptly after receipt of same furnish to the noncustodial parent a photocopy of the child’s grade card or report and copies of any other reports concerning the child’s status or progress.
- The custodial parent shall when possible arrange appointment for parent-teacher conference at a time when the noncustodial parent can be present and whenever possible they shall be attended by both parties.
- The custodial parent shall promptly inform the noncustodial parent of any illness of the children which requires medical attention. Elective surgery shall only be performed after consultation with the noncustodial parent. Emergency surgery necessary for the preservation of life or to prevent a further serious injury or condition may be performed without consultation provided, however, “if time permits, the noncustodial parent shall be consulted and in any event the noncustodial parent shall be informed as soon as possible.”
- Whenever “reasonable visitation” for a noncustodial parent appears in a document it shall be defined as providing at a minimum for:
- Visitation by the noncustodial parent on alternative weekends from Friday at 7 p.m. (the beginning and ending times may be varied to accommodate the work schedule of the parties).
- Mother’s Day the children shall be with the mother and Father’s Day the children shall be with the father. In the event this provision requires the children to be with the custodial parent when it is the noncustodial parent’s normal weekend visitation, the noncustodial parent shall return the children by 9 a.m. on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. In the event that this provision requires the children to be with the noncustodial parent on the custodial parent’s weekend, said noncustodial parent shall receive the children at 9 a.m. on that day and shall return them at 7 p.m. on said day.
- The parents shall have the children on holidays as follows:
- Unless otherwise indicated, said holiday visitation shall commence at the regular hour set for the commencement of weekend visitation and shall end at the regular hour set for the ending of weekend visitations. Said holiday visitations shall have precedence over the regular visitation schedule but shall not otherwise modify it (for example, if the holiday granted in any particular year to a noncustodial parent falls between the regular weekend visitation, the noncustodial parent will have visitation three (3) weekends in a row at that particular time).
- The noncustodial parent shall have an extended visitation each summer to coincide with vacation; however, visitation shall not exceed four (4) weeks in duration. The noncustodial parent shall notify the custodial parent of the time thereof as soon as the vacation schedules at the noncustodial parent’s place of employment are posted or decided upon. The children shall be back in the custodial home approximately two weeks before school opens in the fall.
- Both parties shall be diligent in having the children ready and available at the appointed times and the transporting party shall be prompt in picking up and delivering the children, provided however that the transporting parent for visitation shall have a grace period of fifteen (15) minutes for pick-up and delivery if both parties live within a distance of thirty (30) miles from each other. If the one way distance to be traveled is in excess of thirty (30) miles the grace period shall be thirty (30) minutes. In the event the visiting parent exceeds the grace period, the visitation for that weekend is forfeited unless prior notification and arrangements have been made and except in cases where the visiting parent lives in excess of thirty (30) miles away and suffers an unavoidable breakdown or delay in route and the visiting parent promptly notifies the custodial parent by phone of the delay. Repeated violations by either parent shall be cause for granting a modification of the custody order either by changing custody or curtailing visitation.
- The court retains jurisdiction to enforce its orders and decrees in dissolution cases and to insure that the best interests of the child are served. Parents are reminded that they are putting their own needs above those of the child when they hassle over visitation, and thereby undermine their own relationship with the child, as well as burdening the child with the guilt of responsibility for such hassles.
The basic guidelines for visitations are based on the assumption that it is beneficial for the child to experience affectionate care from both parental figures. The visits exist primarily for thechild and not the parent. Visitation scheduling is best when the parents can agree, since the needs of the child vary with age and circumstances.
“THE PARENTS ARE REMINDED THAT THE ISSUES OF VISITATION AND CHILD SUPPORT ARE NOT RELATED AND THAT ONE ISSUE SHOULD NOT BE USED AS A LEVER TO FORCE THE OTHER.”
It is also important to consider including in visitation orders which parent is responsible for transportation of the children to and from the visitation, and where the exchange is to take place. As with other issues in dissolution and custody cases, the court is generally willing to approve arrangements that are agreed upon by both parties. When the parties cannot agree, the court will exercise its authority to determine a visitation schedule that will promote the best interests of the children, keeping in mind the notion that the best interests of the children require “maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents.”