October 30, 2007

Coordinating Parenting Time After Judgment

No matter how comprehensive a parenting time agreement is — and attorneys do try to make them as specific as possible — even after the custody or dissolution judgment is in effect, there are almost always conflicts about parenting time for the non-custodial parent.

Here are some common examples:

  • when the parenting time agreement provides a child’s illness is the only “excuse” for missed time, then what happens if the custodial parent with a duty to deliver the child to the drop-off site is also so sick he or she can’t drive?
  • when all of the child’s clean underwear/good clothing has ended up at one parent’s home?*
  • an important family event –wedding, funeral, milestone birthday — occurs on the other parent’s “day?”
  • the child never completes school work while at the other parent’s home?

One question parents often have is whether the other parent is in contempt of court for minor infractions of the parenting plan. Technically the answer is “yes.” Should you march into court? The answer is probably “no.” Most courts don’t like to play “he said, she said” every time a conflict arises, and prefer for parents to determine a solution on their own.

Ideally, a conflict would simply never arise. Parents who work hard to be understanding and flexible have the fewest issues with their parenting time agreements. If the other parent calls and explains he or she will be late, it’s a good idea to say, “Sure, that’s fine,” knowing that the next time you have a problem, he or she will be much more likely to also be understanding. (However, if you don’t have faith that your ex will be understanding, you might want to keep a private log of the times he or she is late and the times you’ve let it slide. You might want this as evidence at a later date.)

Another good idea is to keep a shared calendar online, like on Google Calendar. You can put in each parent’s parenting time on the calendar, the child’s school and extra-curricular schedules, and important family events. Include reminders with the events, so that you both will get emailed when they’re coming up. This way, neither party will be blindsided.

Parents who are unable to pick up or drop off the child should get in contact with the other parent to give them the option of picking up or dropping off the child themselves. If one parent is sick, he or she should call the other parent to give him or her the option of caring for the child while the other party recovers. (This, understandably, generates a tremendous amount of goodwill.)

Another good idea is to keep a “Parenting Time Notebook.” Wherever the child goes, the notebook goes with him. (I recommend a bound composition or lab notebook, from which it’s very difficult to tear pages out.) On the first page, put critical information: the numbers for emergency contacts other than the parents, the child’s school address and telephone, the child’s pediatrician, and of course, numbers for each parent. Then, as the child travels from home to home, each parent records how the time has gone, if the child is or isn’t feeling well, and if the child has or doesn’t have any schoolwork or permission slips that should be reviewed.

Even if the other parent doesn’t buy into the idea of the parenting time notebook, keep it up. It’s a good record of how things are progressing for your time with your child, and the other parent may eventually see the merit of keeping it.

*Don’t laugh — it happens. I was pretty surprised the first time a client called about it, though.