What is “standard visitation” in 2023?

Posted Friday, February 3rd, 2023 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, South Carolina Specific, Visitation

When I first began practicing family law 30 years ago, “standard visitation” was pretty standard.  A fit parent who was not the primary caretaker was going to get his[i] children every other weekend from 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 p.m. Sunday, two to three weeks during summer, alternating Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks, and alternating halves of Christmas Break.  Some judges might add a dinner in the off week.  A few judges might add a mid-week overnight but they were truly the bomb-throwing anarchists of the family court bench.

Paparella v. Paparella, 340 S.C. 186, 531 S.E.2d 297 (Ct.App. 2000) signaled a shift in the amount of visitation being awarded to non-custodial parents. The trial court awarded Father standard visitation and he appealed the award of custody to Mother.  The Court of Appeals upheld the award of custody but reversed the award of visitation, greatly increasing the father’s visitation to alternating three-day weekends, one overnight each week during the weekdays, and one-half of the summer. In doing so, the Court of Appeals increased his visitation from approximately 79 nights to approximately 146 nights a year.

Paparella was initially unpublished.[ii]  Its publication heralded a significant alteration in the amount of visitation involved and fit non-custodial parents would be awarded. I lectured on Paparella’s import the following year.  In 2023, the only parents getting what was traditionally standard visitation are problematic parents.

I frankly can’t tell what “standard visitation” is in 2023.  The family court judges of the mid-1990’s were pretty uniform in their visitation schedules; I’m not seeing as much uniformity today.  Holiday visitation hasn’t changed because it was always equal.  But, for actively involved and fit non-primary caretakers who live in close proximity to the other parent, the bi-weekly school year schedule is now, more typically, three, four, and even five overnights every two weeks.  Summer’s baseline is three weeks and often half.  Moreover, it is occasionally fit mothers being awarded visitation merely because the father was the primary caretaker. The culture of custody litigation has truly changed in the past 30 years.

A survey of our family court bench on what they consider their “standard visitation” schedule for an actively-involved and fit parent who lives near the other parent (so that visitation transportation and getting the children to school and activities doesn’t become onerous) would be useful.  A lot of contested custody litigation that might otherwise settle doesn’t because there is a pretty wide range of how much visitation these parents might be awarded from a particular judge.

[i] When I first began practicing family law there were almost no men who were primary caretakers.  The fathers who obtained custody of their children did so because the mothers were unfit.

[ii] I assume it was Mr. Paparella’s appellate attorney, J. Michael Taylor, recognizing this opinion radically altered the amount of visitation that was tolerable/allowable under South Carolina case law, who petitioned to have the opinion published.  If that’s the case, every South Carolina father owes Mr. Taylor a round.




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