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Child Custody: Visitation, Parenting Time and Young Children

I am Cameron Goulding, a family law attorney in the Troy area of Oakland County, Michigan. As a divorce lawyer, it is very important to stay on top of the changes and developments in this area of law.  One developing area of the law concerns parenting time for the non-custodial parent of a very young child, under the age of four.  The Michigan Parenting Time Guideline workbook has long indicated with regards to very young children that the default parenting time of one night per week and alternating weekends is not appropriate.

The Issue

If the default parenting time used by many Friend of the Court programs is not appropriate for children under the age of four, what is an appropriate schedule?

The Answer

I must first admit that I am not a fan of having default parenting time schedules that the Friend of the Court may easily use to forgo a case-by-case analysis.  I firmly believe that each case is different and the custody and parenting time schedules must be created to meet the needs of the children and the parents involved in the family.  That being said, Ottawa County, Michigan has prepared the first default parenting time schedule for children under four in our State.

The Friend of the Court policy statement regarding this issue provides for three different possible default schedules for each age group.  Transitional situations; which is defined as situations in which the child or the parents are not prepared to handle the situation.  This is most likely high conflict cases or cases where the parties had only a casual relationship which led to the birth of a child.  Typical situations; which is defined as the typical readiness of parents and children to handle joint parenting situations and exceptional situations which is defined as situations in which the parent-child relationship with the non-custodial parent is so strong that parenting time can exceed the typical guidelines.  The policy provides an example of a formerly intact family where the non-custodial parent was in the role of a caregiver for the child.

It then provides basically the following schedules for children of different age groups under the age of four.  For children ages 0 – 18 months; Transitional: 1 to 3 contacts of up to four hours each per week with no overnights; typical: 1 or 2 contacts of 1 to 4 hours plus one 8 hour contact though not overnight per week; and exceptional: which allows up to daily contact including overnights.  Children age 19 – 36 months; transitional: 1 to 3 contacts of 1 to 8 hours per week; typical: 1 or 2 contacts of 3 hours plus one biweekly overnight and exceptional: up to daily contact plus overnights.  Finally for children age 37 to 48 months it eschews the transitional – typical situational definitions and provides the following blanket recommendation: Alternating weekends from 9 :00 am on Saturday to 6:00 pm on Sunday; one weekday evening during the week prior to the weekend parenting time for at least two hours; two weekday evenings for at least two hours during the week following the weekend parenting time and additional parenting time for the holidays.

The policy also provides the following recommendations for all parenting time which I believe area good idea for parents dealing with these situations.  (1)The parenting time schedule shall be exercised in a prompt manner, a fifteen-minute delay is allowable but notice is to be given and such a delay should be rare, not routine.  I see all too often cases where one parent is consistently late and then blames the traffic or some other repeating issue which he or she should have foreseen.  (2)The custodial parent shall supply clothes and medications to the non-custodial parent and the non-custodial parent should return the same clean to the custodial parent.  This should go without saying, however, it often can be a problem.  (3) Finally, the policy provides for a “right of first refusal”, which is interesting because some judges are adamantly against allowing a right of first refusal to the parent that is not exercising parenting time.  These judges are concerned that it gives the parent that does not have parenting time with the child a reason to monitor the other parent's parenting time and potentially creates more issues for litigation.  The right of first refusal allowed in the policy calls for either parent to contact the other parent and offer that time with the children to the other parent when he or she is in a situation where that parent will not be present to parent the child for more  than four hours.

Summation

While I am against the notion of default parenting time schedules, I do find this parenting time policy interesting and helpful to consider when discussing parenting time plans with clients that have very young children or whom have non-traditional family situations.

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