SYTSMA: Make time for parenting

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 6, 2021

Time spent with children is some of the most meaningful time in a parent’s day. When parents separate, or never lived together with their children, it is important to develop a parenting time plan so that a plan is in place for children to spend quality time with each parent.

There are many ways parents can work together to develop a parenting time plan. Parents can informally communicate in person, over videoconference, or through electronic means to create a parenting time plan themselves. Parents can work with a mediator (a neutral third party) who can help facilitate an agreed upon parenting time plan.

There may be times when parents may not be able to safely work together such as when there has been domestic violence, other abuse, or criminal behavior between the parents, or between a parent and child. Attorneys can be very helpful where the parties cannot safely interact with each other.

Parents, with or without attorneys, can file a motion with the court and at ac hearing, the court decides what parenting time plan is in the children’s best interest. If there is already a court order, parents can contact the Friend of the court to request a joint resolution conference or a referral to mediation to assist with creating a parenting time plan.

There is no “one size fits all” schedule when it comes to developing a parenting time plan. A parenting time plan can, and should be, as unique as the family that creates it.  It is important to consider the family’s needs, the parents’ work schedules and commitments, and the children’s ages, schedules and activities. Parents should consider what the children’s typical weekdays and weekends will look like, both during the school year, during summer and during school breaks and holidays. Plans for exchange times, transportation and childcare may need to be discussed. The FOC’s Parenting Time Guideline is a good resource for parents to use to create their own parenting time plan.

As an attorney referee, I have seen a variety of parenting time plans developed by families. Parenting time plans that involve the children spending equal time with each parent can be done on a week on/week off basis, with exchanges done every seven days. Some families add a short mid-week visit for the parent who doesn’t have parenting time.

Some families with an equal parenting time schedule may do better with a plan with more frequent child exchanges, such as a 2-2-3 or a 2-2-5-5 rotating schedule. A 2-2-3 schedule involves more frequent weekday exchanges, with the 3-overnight period occurring over the weekend. Under a 2-2-5-5 schedule, each parent has the same two-day period each week, and one parent has a long weekend each week.

In some parenting time plans, children spend more time with one parent than the other.

One plan, which many call “reasonable parenting time” has the children living primarily with one parent and spending time with the other parent every other weekend and one evening per week.  This schedule is modified by some families by extending the alternate-weekend schedule to make it into a three- or four-day weekend. Other families add overnights to the parenting time schedule by turning the mid-week visit into an overnight visit.

Parents have many possibilities for creating a workable parenting time plan. Keep an open mind when working with your co-parent. Be willing to compromise in order to develop a plan that works for the children and both parents. Once the plan is in place, be flexible and communicate with each other. Expect that the plan will change as the children grow and have different needs, schedules, and activities. The best plan is one where adjustments can be made without going to court.  You, as parents, know yourselves, your children, and your situation better than any judge or referee will. Working together to create seamless transitions between households benefits children throughout childhood and beyond.

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MELISSA SYTSMA, J.D., is the Cass County Circuit Court Attorney Referee.