These days, it seems like everyone’s calendars are busier than ever – parents and children alike. Anytime a child’s parents don’t live in the same home, they will need a plan for who will care for the child when. After more than 20 years, the Michigan State Court Administrator’s Office has published new parenting time guidelines to help moms and dads create a plan that works for their schedule and is in their children’s best interests.
Michigan Supreme Court Announces New Parenting Time Guidelines
On March 3, 2021, the Michigan Supreme Court and the state Friend of the Court Bureau announced the release of its new Michigan Parenting Time Guidelines. This 66-page manual is designed to help parents and their advocates create customized parenting time plans based on children’s needs and parents’ realities.
This is the first time the Guideline has been updated since 2000. Many West Michigan courts, including Kent County, have created their own guidelines for parenting time that apply to cases in their county. However, the new manual can be used by parents trying to negotiate or advocate for a parenting time plan anywhere in the state.
What Your Parenting Time Schedule Should Consider
Every child custody order includes a provision about parenting time. Even an order granting one parent “sole physical custody” will still award parenting time to the non-custodial parent except in the most severe cases.
However, what that schedule looks like, how specific it needs to be, and when it will change are all up for negotiation or litigation. As you work with your family law attorney to create a custom parenting time schedule for your children, there are a variety of factors that should be considered.
Your Children’s Developmental Needs
The new Michigan Parenting Time Guidelines make clear that as children grow older, their developmental needs change. Young children need frequent contact with caregivers to develop healthy bonds, while older children may struggle with multiple parenting time exchanges every week. Teenagers with busy extracurricular calendars may need flexibility while their younger siblings need a predictable schedule.
The best parenting time schedules plan for these developmental changes ahead of time. You might build in a graduated plan while children are very young or allow for automatic changes when a child goes to school or reaches a certain age.
Distance Between Parents’ Homes
When parents live far apart, are in the military, incarcerated, or receiving in-patient treatment, the parenting time guidelines recommend adjusting the child’s schedule to adjust for these circumstances. This might include extended parenting time during school vacations (when geographic distance is an issue), along with telephone and electronic parenting time, depending on the parents’ circumstances and access to technology.
Special Needs at Home and at School
Some children face special physical, mental, or emotional challenges that will affect their parenting time needs. Parents of special needs children should consider the effect of transitioning on their child, and work with their medical providers to create the least disruptive parenting time schedule possible to minimize the impact.
Domestic Violence or Child Abuse
Most of the Parenting Time Guidelines are designed for parents who can cooperate to meet their children’s needs. However, in cases of domestic violence or child abuse, the normal schedules may not be appropriate. In these cases, you should work with an experienced family law attorney to advocate for:
- Clear and specific schedules that minimize the need to negotiate
- Exchanges by a third party or in a public place
- Supervised or therapeutic parenting time
- Plans for how parents will resolve future disputes
These cases must address the child’s best interests and survivor’s safety, to make sure everyone is protected from future abuse.
Get Help Creating a Custom Parenting Time Plan for Your Family
Parents can agree to a new parenting time schedule at any time, but if you can’t agree you and your family law attorney will need to show there has been “proper cause” or a change in circumstances to take the matter back to court.
At Thacker Sleight, we can help you and your co-parent reach an agreement through the collaborative process, or make your case for your desired parenting time schedule in court. Our experienced family law attorneys provide our clients exclusive, highly professional service that is also personal and unique to their situation. If you need help with a family law matter, contact us at (616) 300-2367 to schedule a consultation. We will be there with and for you every step of the way.