Parenting Time / Parenting Plans

The term “parenting time” denotes how much time each parent spends with the child. If either parent requests, the court is required to grant parenting time rights to the noncustodial parent to enable the parent and child to maintain a relationship that will be in the best interests of the child. However, if the parenting time is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health the court may limit or eliminate parenting time.

The court is required to establish a specific parenting time schedule if requested by either parent. The schedule must address the frequency and duration of parenting time and establish a holiday and vacation schedule. Among the factors to consider in establishing a parenting time schedule, the court must consider whether there is a history of domestic abuse, the age of the child, and the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent.

As a child gets older, a parenting time schedule may need to be modified to adjust to the child’s changing needs. Therefore, parenting time can be an area that is frequently revisited. In order to avoid lengthy and expensive court appearances, mediation is commonly used. A parenting time expeditor may also be appointed to resolve any on-going disputes over parenting time. The parenting time expeditor has the authority to interpret the parenting time order and mediate to resolve disputes. If the parties so agree, the parenting time expeditor may be given broader authority to adjust the parenting time schedule. By agreement, the parenting time expeditor may be given broader authorities such as the authority to order minor adjustments to the parenting time schedule to address the changing needs of the children or special circumstances. If the parties are unable to come to a resolution through an alternative form of dispute resolution, then a party may file a motion with the Court to modify the parenting time schedule.

In reaching a final determination regarding child custody and parenting time, parties may settle the issues by using a “Parenting Plan” as opposed to using traditional custody labels and a parenting time schedules.

Parenting plans are required to include only three elements:

  • Schedule of the time that each parent spends with the child;
  • Designation of decision-making responsibilities regarding the child;
  • Method of dispute resolution.

Some parents prefer using a Parenting Plan because it allows them to be creative in coming up with a plan that will best meet their children’s needs. Nevertheless, the Parenting Plan must include a designation of custody because of provisions of federal law that require such a designation.