Like child custody, parenting time is one of the most contentious issues of a divorce or custody proceedings. The parenting schedule essentially divides the children’s lives and the lives of the parents into two spheres: time with Dad, and time with Mom.
Thirty years ago, before family courts were created in Michigan, the stereotype parenting model was that Mom was in charge of the children, and Dad was tasked with bringing money into the now-fractured household. Over the decades, that model has given way to a 50/50 parenting schedule, with both parents having [roughly] equal time.
Of course, this does not work for every family. When it does not, it is usually due to a difficult work schedule, or one parent’s sour attitude toward the other parent. Family law professionals have a wide range of model parenting schedules at their disposal. It is usually best, however, if the parents keep control of this issue and decide for themselves the parenting schedule best for their children. This is known as the co-parenting model.
When working with family law professionals and the other parent of your child, here are some common issues you may face:
- Co-Parenting. Most divorce professionals will tell you that the co-parenting model is the best parenting model for the children. In the co-parenting model, both parents are engaged with the children’s lives. Both parents communicate frequently, almost on a daily basis, to communicate to each other the significant events in their children’s lives. This model of parenting depends on good communication between both parents. Some couples are able to set aside all their differences, and in the divorce process there are many, in order to focus on the children.
- Parental Alienation. Parental alienation is the opposite of the co-parenting model, and involves a campaign by one parent, sometimes both, to disparage the other parent directly to the children. In this dysfunctional model, the children become pawns in a war between the parents, with the alienating parent tearing down the other parent, and with the disparaged parenting attempting to rehabilitate their image to the confused children. Earlier this Century, a group of divorce and psychology professionals attempted to elevate parental alienation as a recognized psychological condition: parental alienation syndrome. This attempt, however, was swiftly relegated to the trash heap of “junk science”. There is no such syndrome. Family court judges and professionals simply know that some misdirected and maladjusted parents do it: they trash the other parent to their children’s detriment. As a general rule, it is better to avoid detailed discussions with your children of the custody issues in your case. Likewise, it is always better to avoid disparaging the other parent to your children. Think “co-parenting”, not “alienating”.
- Establishing a Parenting Schedule. With these basic principles in mind, you may be able to approach your co-parent at the early stage of your divorce proceeding to discuss a parenting schedule that is best for the children. While this preliminary discussion should take into account the work schedule of both parents, the best interests of the children must be paramount. Sometimes, one or both parents will need to make a significant sacrafice in order to make the schedule work. Keep in mind that when a divorce is filed, and an initial parenting schedule is put into place, it sometimes becomes difficult to modify that schedule. Therefore, you want to be sure to think the initial schedule through, taking everything into account. Do not agree to a schedule under pressure from the attorneys or your spouse. Be sure the schedule makes good sense from the perspective of the children’s interests.
- Temporary Parenting Orders. When an initial parenting schedule is agreed upon, or settled, that schedule should take the form of a temporary order so that it can be enforced. In Michigan, the court rules expressly provide for the entry of temporary custody and parenting orders. In addition, many divorce lawyers prefer to negotiate and enter a stipulated order that provides each parent with specific parenting time. If your spouse is difficult, or the circumstances in your case make it unlikely to reach an agreement on this issue, then your lawyer can file a motion with the family court seeking the entry of an order providing for specific temporary parenting time. Remember, however, that in many cases, the initial parenting schedule tends to become the permanent parenting schedule, unless the parents agree otherwise.
- Modification to the Parenting Schedule. The custody and parenting time provisions in the family court’s orders, and in the judgment of divorce are always modifiable provided there is a legally recognized legitimate basis for the modification. In passing the Child Custody Act, the state legislature recognized that in any family, things change with the passage of time. Therefore, seeking to modify the parenting schedule is an option parents have available. The key is whether there is a valid basis to order such modification. As with anything in family law, so long as the parents agree, then the modification will happen. With few exceptions, family courts prefer to have the parents themselves establish the parenting schedule. Often, however, the parents do not agree. One parent sees the circumstances far different than the other parent. Many times the parents do not trust the other parent, or see the other parent’s agenda for modifying the parenting schedule as self-serving and not in the children’s best interests.
- Parenting Software. In this day and age, many parents utilize some of the parenting software available to chart and mesh parents’ and children’s busy schedules. Ourfamilywizard includes the ability to interface with lawyers, family court professionals, and even grandparents. The chief competition for the wizard is Optimal from Parentingtime.net. Parents can use this software to calculate child support. At least one family court judge was upheld on appeal for his decision mandating co-parent divorce litigants to continue using the wizard software despite, or perhaps because of, a complete breakdown in communication between the parents.
Here are some brief articles about specific issues that arise in the parenting time context: