Parenting Time in Michigan Divorce Cases
Parenting time plays an important role in maintaining the parent-child relationship after divorce. Every Michigan judgment of divorce must contain parenting time provisions. In most cases, parenting time is set forth in some detail in the judgment of divorce. However, in cases where the parents have shown an ability to communicate and work together cooperatively, a parenting time order may be quite general, stating, for example, “Parenting time with the minor children shall be as agreed upon between the parties” or “Defendant shall have regular and frequent parenting time with the minor children at such times as the parties shall agree.” The custody and parenting time statute provides that a court shall enter an order of specific parenting time if a parent requests it.
At the other end of the spectrum, often in high conflict cases, the parenting time order may be extremely detailed, setting forth the exact time and place of parenting exchanges, who will provide transportation, whether third parties may or may not be present at parenting time, etc. In setting parenting time, the court will consider all of the above “best interests of the child” factors.
Many Michigan counties including Ottawa and Allegan where I practice publish parenting time policies as guidelines for parents. These policies as a rule gradually increase parenting time for the non-custodial parent based on the ages of the children. They also provide guidance in dividing holidays. No two parenting time cases are the same, as families differ widely in their work schedules and how they spend their leisure time. Where parties geographically separate after divorce, distance considerations may provide additional challenges.
If I am your attorney, we will want to discuss parenting time in the early stages of your divorce. If you anticipate moving, even within your county, this can greatly impact parenting time, especially if you will be locating to a different school district. Michigan law requires that any time a parent moves to a location more than 100 miles from the original home of the children, that parent must seek the court’s approval. Even in cases where the move is closer than 100 miles, if it effectively disrupts either parent’s custodial environment or renders the parenting time plan unworkable, it will be necessary to ask the court to modify the custody and parenting time orders.
The Michigan Friend of the Court Bureau publishes a Model Parenting Time Guideline which, while not adopted by all counties, serves as a guideline for counties to develop their own policies and procedures. The Model Guideline and parenting time policies of most Michigan counties are published on the Michigan Courts website: www.courts.mi.gov/administration/scao/officesprogram.
In addition to the best interest factors discussed above, the court will look at practical considerations in arriving at a parenting time plan. The parents’ work schedules, the children’s extracurricular activities and school schedules, special needs, transportation issues, and a host of other factors come into play when arriving at a workable parenting time schedule.
Parents going through divorce commonly state that their goal is to obtain precisely equal parenting time between the parents. While this sometimes works, in many cases it is simply unrealistic. In situations where, for example, one parent has been a full-time stay-at-home caregiver for the children and the other parent has devoted a great deal of energy and time to a demanding career, the court may order a traditional parenting time arrangement, with the established stay-at-home parent having primary custody and parenting time during the week, and the other parent having parenting time on alternating weekends. In the interest of stability, a judge may hesitate to change an arrangement that has worked economically and kept the children healthy and happy during the marriage just so the parents can feel they have equal rights to time with the children. Realistically, children do not spend exactly 50% of their time with each parent during a marriage, so there is no requirement that time be spent equally after the marriage has ended.
Modifying Parenting Time in a Michigan Divorce Case
The law recognizes that as children grow and families change, sometimes parenting time needs to be modified along the way.
Parenting time in Michigan is generally modifiable upon showing of good cause or a change in circumstances in accordance with the best interest of the child. Examples of good cause include such things as household relocation, changes in the parents’ work schedules, changing educational needs or school districts, remarriage of a parent, abuse, neglect, substance abuse or criminal behavior (on the part of the parent or the child), health or behavioral issues or simply the passage of time, coupled with the child’s expressing a desire for more parenting time with the non-custodial parent.