Common Custody Issues: His Parenting Time

Posted on Feb 16, 2024 by Katie Carter


It’s hard to transition from having custody of your child full time to sharing custody, no matter what specific allocation of time your child’s father gets.  Sharing holidays is a challenge, especially when you consider that it means that there will be major holidays that you’ll spend alone.  Any deviation from the standard schedule has the potential to become a major distraction (at best) and completely cataclysmic (at worst).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when it comes to custody (and so many other things in life) the best defense really is a good offense.  And the best offense is a good separation agreement or custody agreement, because it gives you the freedom to include as many specific details as you need to include to ensure that coparenting runs (more or less) smoothly.

It’s not that it won’t be a bumpy road; for many families, it is – and that’s especially true at first, when tensions are at their highest.  Ideally, though, a well-drafted agreement filled with incredibly detailed, specific (almost pedantic) descriptions about what will happen can form a foundation where both you and your child’s father learn what to expect.

When you know what to expect, you share the same expectations.  When you share the same expectations, no one is angry or disappointed – because they already knew what to expect ahead of time.  One of the biggest recipes for disaster in a custody case is when one parent feels wronged or deprived of time that they believe they should rightfully have.  It probably goes without saying, but this is a feeling that you want to work hard to prevent.

The best and, really, only way to make sure that you have the exact same expectations as your coparent is to have a detailed agreement that lays it all out.  The details can be challenging, especially at first, but having a strong foundation will give you something to build on later.  In an ideal world, everyone would relax into the new framework so thoroughly that you can put your custody agreement in a drawer and never take it out again.

You want to avoid the things that have a strong likelihood of creating issues, even down to some of the most mundane details.  But you also have to go into your coparenting relationship understanding ahead of time what it really means to share a child with someone you are no longer involved in a romantic relationship with.

It all comes down to parenting time.  Who gets what, when, for how long, and under what circumstances – this is the bread and butter of the custody agreement.  Nowadays, it has sort of fallen out of fashion to call the time that a parent spends with their child as visitation, regardless of whether we’re referring to a mother or a father.  Even though, when you file in the courts, you’ll file a petition for custody and visitation, we now generally refer to this time spent with the child as ‘parenting time’ regardless of which parent is exercising it.

What happens during his parenting time?

He’s going to have a wide degree of latitude to determine how he’ll spend his parenting time.  As long as he’s not doing so in a way that jeopardizes the health and/or well being of your child (you should say “our” child, but if I said ‘ours’ it would be confusing), it’s pretty much all good.  The courts understand that moms and dads will parent differently.  There’s a strong likelihood that rules will be different at your house and at his.  Even things that you may formerly have agreed on can change – and likely will change – at this point in the process.

It’s not reasonable to expect that you can set rules or expectations for your child’s father on his parenting time.

It’s similarly unreasonable for him to expect you to make his parenting time easier by providing food, formula, diapers, wipes, clothes, swim suits, shoes, coats, over the counter medication, or clothing.  You do not have to pack a bag, beyond the things that the child needs to bring to feel comfortable – special loveys, toys, or other unique items.  You don’t need to purchase two of everything; your child playing the violin doesn’t need one at mom’s house and one at dad’s.  Some items can go back and forth but you are not required to send those basics back and forth.

The main exceptions I see to this are expressed breast milk (for a nursing infant), prescription medication, adaptive equipment (glasses, wheelchairs, walkers, etc), or unique and necessary sports/extracurricular equipment.  Even in the case of something like expressed breast milk, you’re probably not going to be able to insist on it – and, even if you could, expressed breast milk has to be handled so carefully its worth wondering whether he’s really committed enough to the cause to take the trouble to store and feed it safely.  (Not to be disparaging, but many separated dads are not willing to do this.  It’s not a question of their capability, but their willingness.)

Communication during dad’s parenting time

Communication should also be established by agreement.  If you have phone or FaceTime calls, if they’re on a particular schedule, if there’s a protocol for rescheduling missed calls, etc.,  should all be included in the agreement.

For communication between you and your coparent, I suggest including a provision in your agreement that covers this as well.  There are many coparenting apps out there – many with extra helpful features like shared calendaring, chat, and the ability to upload important documents (like school picture order forms, report cards, and birthday party invitations).  It’s worth considering whether you’d benefit from the use of a coparenting app, which one, and then whether you will share the cost and to what degree.

You should include a prohibition against discussing the divorce or custody case with the kids and refraining from using your children as go-betweens.  Communication between the parents should stay between the parents.  You should also prohibit disparaging comments, both in the sense that you don’t want kids to overhear them, and also that you really should not be making them in a public forum, like on social media.

Modifications to the existing custody arrangement

Over time, there will be plenty of reasons to need to make modifications to your ongoing arrangement.  Some of the most common I hear about are family events – weddings, vacations, holidays, and other special occasions top the list.

There are about a million reasons its worthwhile to try to build up some goodwill between your coparent, and events like these are often a big one – not to mention, of course, the general health and well being of the children you’re raising.  If you’ve been kind, cordial, and extended flexibility to him, then he’s much more likely to extend flexibility to you.

You have no right to demand specific dates, though.  If it’s his parenting time, it’s his parenting time, and he can say no to you, no matter how good your reason.

Karma, you know?  It’s never a bad time to extend the olive branch.  Hopefully he’ll be the one requesting flexibility first so that you can show him that you’ve grown and evolved, and model how you’d like your coparenting relationship to develop from this point forward.

Moms and dads parent differently, and its inevitable that there will be some differences between the households.  The best way to eliminate any potential issues is by drafting an agreement designed to consider and address pitfalls ahead of time, so that no one faces any nasty surprises.  The goal is not to rigorously schedule every moment of your life between now and the time your child turns 18 but instead to help you create a framework that you can build on.  Hopefully, for your sake, that means eventually that you’ll build up so much trust and goodwill between the two of you that you can just shove that agreement in the back of a drawer somewhere and never look at it again.

For more information, to request a copy of our custody book for Virginia moms, or to register to attend an upcoming custody seminar, give our office a call at 757-425-5200 or visit our website at