Parenting time disputes are one of the most common reasons divorced couples return to court after the divorce is final. If you will remember a few basic principles, parenting time can be more positive for you and your children.
Remember, child support and parenting time are two different issues. The right to parenting time belongs to the child, and whether the child’s parent is receiving child support should not interfere with the child’s right to a close relationship with both parents. Likewise, denial of parenting time is not a reason to withhold support.
If you are overly legalistic, expect the same in return. While it is important to adhere to a parenting time schedule, keep in mind that sometimes work schedules, weather, or other circumstances may present a challenge. Do your best to recognize that parenting time is an important right that belongs to your children, regardless of how good or bad your ex may be at adhering to the parenting time schedule. In most cases flexibility, not rigidity, serves the best interests of the children.
As you prepare your children to spend time with their other parent, do not show resentment or hesitation. Instead, present it as a positive opportunity. Try to avoid sending the children the message that they must visit with the other parent “because the judge said so.”
Parenting time will be a far more positive experience if you and your ex are able to discuss and agree on who will provide these things. For example, if parenting time begins at 6:00 PM, discuss in advance who will provide dinner. If your child requires diapers or formula, discuss in advance who will be providing these necessities.
If you and your ex are comfortable using text messages or phone calls for communicating arrival times, etc., practice some consistency. If you normally text when you are going to be late, don’t expect that she will check her office voicemail if you leave a message there. Discuss preferred methods of communication early in your case, develop a plan and stick with it.
Remember that the parenting time provisions in your judgment of divorce are orders, not suggestions. Do not present parenting time as optional to your child, and do not let the child decide if he or she is going to parenting time. If the parenting time provisions are not working, you can always file a motion to modify them.
This often puts children in an awkward position and can cause conflict between the parents. If you have parenting time concerns that need to be expressed to the other parent, you can always keep a journal in the child’s backpack or establish a protocol of emailing each other immediately after parenting time to check in.
As discussed above, parenting time is not optional. Just because the child is sick, has other plans, or does not feel like going to the other parent’s house, you cannot unilaterally cancel parenting time. Of course, in the spirit of flexibility, you and the other parent should not hesitate to adjust parenting time schedules if it will serve the children’s best interest.
You will build many bridges with your ex if you take the initiative to make things right.
You may not agree with everything that takes place during your ex’s parenting time. However, unless there is abuse or neglect, which may require you to contact the authorities, try to recognize individual parenting styles. You may feel that your children watch too much television, eat too much junk food, or play too many video games while at the other parent’s house. Courts seldom get involved in this type of judgment call, and if you try to change the parenting time schedule or file a parenting time complaint based on differences of parenting style, it may damage your credibility with the judge. If you have concerns about how the children are spending their time, discuss this with your ex. If you cannot agree on these matters, or if you sense that the conflict is getting out of control, it may be time for some co-parenting counseling.
I developed the above guidelines based on experiences I have had as a West Michigan Divorce and Child Custody Attorney. Each parenting time case I handle is unique and no two situations are the same. If parenting time has been a source of stress during or following your divorce, I can offer practical solutions to your dilemma. Call my Holland, Michigan office today.
© 2022 Thomas C. Kates, Attorney and Mediator