When two parents can't come together on their own terms to do what's right for their mutual child, it's up to the state and the courts to set those terms for them. This typically results in the appointment of a custodial parent and a non-custodial parent, both of whom have a number of very specific obligations they must live up to in the eyes of the state. If you're in this situation as a non-custodial parent, make sure you keep the consequences in mind if you fall behind or fail to live up to your obligations.

Visitation Rights

It's normal for parents to take turns spending time with their child and providing for them, but most child custody arrangements give specific visitation dates, times, or schedules. When setting up your visitation schedule, be realistic about when you can and can't make it. You might honestly intend to be there every weekend, but life happens and other commitments may come up, so err on the side of caution before insisting on frequent regular visitation.

Typical visitation dates alternate weekends and split holidays, so start there and adjust that schedule so it more appropriately meets your needs, the needs of your child, and their other parent. Custodial parents can refuse unreasonable visitation scenarios (e.g. late at night, if you were partying, etc.). However, a custodial parent cannot refuse your visitation rights because of petty reasons--like being upset with you. If you are trying to live up to your obligations, but the custodial parent isn't cooperating, you should talk with your lawyer. 

If you are unmarried and still fighting for custody and/or visitation, keep in mind that fathers still have equal standing to a mother in a court battle as long as they are listed as the father on the child's birth certificate.

Many parents can get protective when someone walks back into their lives and requests visitation rights, so be sensitive, cautious, and ready to increase your presence gradually. Ultimately, you'll have to follow the visitation rules of the state your child resides in. 

Child Support

Both visitation and support are obligations as much as rights, but it's normally child support that is neglected first. While most states base their maximum child support amount on a percentage of a parent's income, paying it can sometimes be inconvenient. By no means should this be an excuse for not paying what you owe though, as stiff penalties can result-- including fines, loss of driver's license, and even jail time in extreme cases.

To simplify your experience, speak with your state or county child support enforcement agency for more information and ask about payroll deductions, direct withdrawals, and other automated options. This will help take the guesswork out of your support payments and can ensure that an accurate record of your payments is maintained by an impartial third party. If this isn't possible, work with your attorney or an accountant to ensure that your checks are delivered in a timely manner and accurately reflect your monetary obligation. While child support usually ends at the age of majority (18), some states may have you pay until the child is actually 21! So, make sure you are up to date on your state's laws.

Being a non-custodial parent can be harder in some ways than being the primary caregiver. You miss out on a lot by not living with your child, but failing in your responsibilities can end up causing you to miss out on a lot more.