MATHEWS: ‘Does the parenting time guideline apply?’

The holiday season can bring many stresses for parents from figuring out daycare during Christmas break to scheduling holiday events with family, just to name a few.  For parents who are not living together and are raising a child together in separate households, there is also the added stress of determining when the child spends time with which parent over the holidays. 

As parents try to work out parenting time, the Friend of the Court will often get calls regarding whether or not the Cass County Friend of the Court Parenting Time Guideline applies to them. 

The Parenting Time Guideline is a guideline that sets out a reasonable parenting time structure for parents (i.e. a schedule for weekend parenting time, phone contact, holidays, spring break, etc.).  It also covers issues that come up related to parenting time such as who is to provide transportation, car seats, exchange times and other common issues.

The Parenting Time Guideline is to be followed if reasonable rights of parenting time have been ordered for a parent.  This means the first place to look to determine if the Parenting Time Guideline applies to your parenting time is the terms of your most recent parenting time order.  If your most recent order indicates a party is to have reasonable rights of parenting time as outlined in the Cass County Parenting Time Guideline, then the terms of the Parenting Time Guideline apply.

In some cases, parties will agree to their own parenting time terms but will include in their order that a specific provision of the Parenting Time Guideline will be followed such as the section for Holiday Parenting Time.  In other cases, parties will agree to their own parenting time terms and specifically include in their order that the Parenting Time Guideline does not apply. 

You will want to make sure you review all of the terms of your parenting time order to ensure you know what portions of the Parenting Time Guideline applies to you.

Of course (except in limited circumstances such as when a parent’s parenting time has been suspended) parents can always agree to modify terms of parenting time.  For example, if a parenting time order indicates that the parties are to follow the Parenting Time Guideline which would give mom the first half of Christmas Break for 2018 but dad’s family has a special trip planned for the first half of Christmas Break, the parents can agree to swap weeks so the child can participate in this special trip. 

However, if parents cannot agree on what parenting time is reasonable or an order does not address a parenting time issue that the parents are unable to resolve, the Friend of the Court will apply the terms of the Parenting Time Guideline to resolve the issue when in the best interest of the child.

The Parenting Time Guideline is structured to outline parenting time based on even and odd years and to cover major holidays during the year (not just Christmas and New Year’s) so that parties can plan ahead.  A good way to lessen stress for the holidays in 2019 is to look at what Holiday Parenting Time you are given under your order and plan accordingly.  If you know the other parent gets Easter this year, talk to your family members in advance to schedule your family Easter dinner during your parenting time. 

It is always a good reminder for everyone that according to statistics collected by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, one in three children are served by the Michigan Child Support Program.  This means that while you may not have a parenting time order that you have to follow for the holidays, someone among your friends and/or family members probably does.  Be mindful of requests of a parent to move a holiday event to a time when a child can participate. Making accommodations for these requests can help lessen stress for the parent and ensure that the child gets to share in the holiday memories with both sides of his or her family each year and not feel left out.

If you have questions about the FOC that you think would be helpful to address in future columns, please send them to the FOC email address:  foc@cassco.org

Sarah Mathews is the deputy Friend of the Court with Cass County Friend of the Court.

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