I hate ‘reasonable and liberal’ visitation in Va parenting plans

Posted on Apr 15, 2024 by Katie Carter

It is incredibly difficult to go through a separation and/or divorce (or even a breakup, if you and your child’s father never married) when you have children in common.  Going from ‘you’ time and ‘me’ time to ‘your’ time and ‘our’ time is a huge change.

There’s not enough said about navigating those complicated and often conflicting emotions; of the guilt you might feel for ending a marriage (even an abusive or toxic one) but also, at the same time, the absolute joy and gratefulness you have that it did happen because, however painful it was and will be for you, it gave you your children.

At the same time that you’re dealing with the end of your relationship, you’re being forced to create hard and fast rules – a parenting plan – about exactly who will have parenting time with the child(ren) and when, months (and sometimes even years) ahead of time.

How do you know how you’ll feel?  How do you know what’ll be convenient?  No one has a crystal ball, right?  And, anyway, thinking about all of this feels AWFUL.

I can’t tell you how many times moms have asked me whether I couldn’t just skip the details and, instead, put in a basic ‘reasonable and liberal’ visitation provision.

What does reasonable and liberal mean?

Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?

All joking aside, a reasonable and liberal provision is usually a catchall kind of provision that is sometimes included in separation and/or custody and visitation agreements.  Sometimes, we include it just at the end, after we mostly divvy up the time between the parents.  In other cases, it stands alone.  Custody and visitation will be determined by the parents; it’ll be ‘reasonable and liberal.’

The problem is, though, that no one knows what reasonable and liberal means.  And it may very well mean that you and your child’s father have VERY different ideas about what it’ll look like.

What does reasonable and liberal mean to you?

In my experience, moms focus more on the ‘reasonable’ part, while dads focus more on the ‘liberal’ part.

Mostly, moms tell me that they like reasonable and liberal because it introduces an element of control to the parenting plan.  If they think something is unreasonable, they can deny it.

Dads, on the other hand, are focused on the word liberal which, to them, means that basically whenever they want parenting time, they should be able to ask for it.

One of the biggest problems you can have in an agreement is ambiguity.

Reasonable and liberal is super ambiguous and it can mean very different things to different people.  You may sign your separation agreement only to find, very quickly, that you and your ex have VERY different ideas about what it means.

If you deny his request for some parenting time – and he’s super upset by it, because he wasn’t expecting it to be like this – he could file for a modification of custody and visitation and argue that you’ve unreasonably withheld the children.

It’s a thing.  Go back and read the best interests of the child factors, with particular attention to factor number 6.

This is a big concern!

In some ways, it doesn’t even matter whether the court is convinced by his argument or makes a change to the parenting plan.

Of course, it DOES matter – because if the court changes it, then you could potentially lose custody or wind up with some arrangement that you hate.

But even if you win – meaning that custody and visitation don’t change – you still are on the hook for the time and expense of litigation, not to mention the fact that the tension and ill will between you and your ex will make cooperative coparenting even more difficult than it already is.

Spend the time NOW coming up with an agreement that takes your concerns into account.

Be specific.  Even if it’s difficult.

No, you know what?  Scratch that.

Be specific.  ESPECIALLY if it’s difficult – because it’s all the more likely that you’ll run into problems later if you can’t even agree now.  If you don’t agree, why on earth would you think that you both understand reasonable and liberal to mean the same thing?

Spoiler alert: you almost certainly do not.

It is not in your best interests to have an agreement that doesn’t withstand even the smallest amount of scrutiny.  You want an agreement that provides a foundation for you to build your coparenting relationship on, not one that crumbles under the tiniest amount of pressure.

You have an opportunity, now, to build something that helps you BOTH navigate the future more confidently.  Is it hard?  Sure.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely – especially if it keeps you out of court and helps you manage your own (and each other’s expectations).  To the extent that you share the same mindset about what it’ll feel like going into coparenting with each other, the better of you’ll be.

Consider your specific concerns – and use your agreement to address them.

Every case is different!  The concerns you have are not necessarily the concerns that someone else has.  You should draft your agreement to address whatever it is about navigating coparenting with your child’s father that concerns you the most!

Are you worried he’ll dump the kids with his mom or new girlfriend, instead of watching them himself?

Are birthday parties ALREADY something that causes tension between you?

Are you scared to handle visitation exchanges in person?

There are as many different concerns are there are types of families, so do some brainstorming with your lawyer and come up with some solutions that address your concerns and give you the reassurance you need.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Reasonable and liberal may be easy in the short term but I feel convinced that, in the long term, you’ll wish you had put more effort into coming up with specifics.  After all, minimizing the tension now, and successfully setting up a strong coparenting relationship, may mean that you can put that agreement in a drawer and never look at it again.

If you keep fighting, though, chances are good that you’ll be bound by an agreement and constantly fighting with your ex between now and the time your youngest child turns 18.

I hate reasonable and liberal provisions!  For more information, request a copy of our custody book for Virginia moms or register to attend a Custody Bootcamp seminar!