Visitation and Parenting Time
When a couple is ending their relationship and they share children in common, one of the biggest worries is how much visitation and parenting time, post-separation, each party will be able to spend with the children. Parents who have been significantly involved in the day-to-day care of the children are often afraid their visitation and parenting time will be reduced to a point where they are relegated to being weekend parents. Others come to us with the complaint that the soon-to-be ex-spouse or ex-partner was minimally involved in the care and day-to-day activities of the children, but now suddenly wants to become a “super-parent” with 50/50 visitation and parenting time. Regardless of what side of the conflict you are on, we can help you interpret the law and apply it to the facts of your case.
In thinking through your case and the type of schedule you want to implement post-separation, above all, you should consider the best interests of the children. In deciding what schedule might best be suited to your children, there are many things you should ponder. Following is a list of of just some of the items to prompt you to consider the type of visitation and parenting time that might be best for your children:
- How old are the children?
- How far away will you and the other parent live from one another?
- How much time will the children spend traveling on the days that you and the other parent are exchanging them?
- Where do the children go to daycare or school?
- Do the children participate in extra-curricular activities?
- How are the children performing in school?
- How could different parenting plans potentially affect that performance in school?
- Who was the person providing most of the day-to-day care for the children during the relationship?
- Now that you and the other parent are separating, if one or both of you work, how do you intend to modify your schedule to accommodate the needs of the children?
- If the children are old enough and of sufficient maturity to express an opinion, how would they like to split the time between the parents?
- If a child has an opinion as to where he wants to spend more of his time, are there reasons below the surface that would explain that child’s desire? (For example, in the case of teenagers, they often want to spend more time with the parent who is more liberal in his or her parenting style and will allow more freedom. Depending on the child, more freedom may or may not be in the child’s best interest.)
- In a high conflict parental relationship, if one parent is proposing a plan that would involve frequent parenting time exchanges, would the number of exchanges increase the potential for conflict even more?
- Has there been domestic violence or abuse in the relationship?
- Are there any orders of protection in place?
- If there is (or has been) domestic violence or orders of protection in place, how will exchanges of the children be handled?
In Arizona, the general law is that each parent is entitled to frequent, reasonable, meaningful and continuing visitation and parenting time. A judge can find, however, that this general rule does not apply under certain circumstances. If a judge finds that the mental, emotional, physical or moral health is endangered by one parent, the court can put safeguards in place for the protection of the child. These safeguards could include things like requiring supervised parenting time, parenting or high conflict resolution classes, and/or drug and alcohol testing.
Unfortunately for some, there are times when the one parent interferes so much with the other parent’s relationship with the children, the children become alienated. While there are times (especially with older children) when the relationships are nearly beyond repair, in most cases, there is hope of rebuilding the broken bonds. If you find yourself the victim of parental alienation, we have tools and suggestions for helping you re-connect with your children. It is important to understand that depending upon the severity of the alienation, the process of restoring your relationship with your kids could take time and would best be done in steps. We can help you craft a proposal and a plan that serves the highest good for your family.
As children grow, their needs change. While you and your ex-partner may share one visitation and parenting time plan now, that plan will likely change as the children get older. The Arizona Model Parenting Time Plans provide food for thought for a variety of plans based upon the ages of the children, as well as the distance between the parents. Keep in mind that while one plan may be appropriate for children of a certain age, that same plan may not be appropriate for another family because the parents live so far from one another. Also remember that the Arizona Model Parenting Time Plans are only suggested plans. You and your ex-partner are free to become as creative as you want to in framing a plan that suits the best interests of your children.
If you are preparing to negotiate or litigate a new visitation and parenting time plan with your (soon-to-be) ex-partner, we recommend you keep a calendar recording how much time each of you spends with the children. Save copies of e-mail exchanges in which you how to make a (or the other party refuses to negotiate) parenting time, exchanges, changes to the schedule, etc. Take photos of text messages which contain communications regarding the visitation and parenting time you are currently exercising. If it is your position that the children’s school performance suffers while in the care of the other parent, obtain copies of attendance records and grades so this information can be correlated with your calendar as to who has the children when.
If you find yourself in the midst of a conflict regarding visitation and parenting time, we can provide you with information, guidance, and resources that will help you protect the best interest of your children. Please call our office today at 602-230-2333.