What is Parenting Time?

Navigating parenting when you’re breaking up, separating, or divorcing is no easy feat. I think a big part of what makes it such a struggle for moms, particularly, is because dads suddenly have opinions about things that otherwise they would have let the mom decide.

Things that mom had full control over before, when the parties were happily together, suddenly require discussion and collaboration. It’s confusing, I think, for a lot of moms. Why does he suddenly care? Why is he even having this discussion? Is this part of a secret or nefarious scheme, concocted by him and his lawyer? Is this super dad (a unique phenomenon in custody and visitation cases), rearing his ugly head?

While I think that, in many cases, dads are just trying to be involved, even (and maybe especially?) in ways they weren’t before, there’s so much mistrust on both sides that it’s sort of a recipe for disaster. And, of course, for all the well-meaning, formerly uninvolved, but fundamentally good dads out there, there are many, many others who are none of those things.

Figuring out how to dole out the time between two parents – when no such distinction existed before – is challenging. I don’t think there’s anyone who makes the transition perfectly, without some struggle. In fact, in most of my consultations where custody is an issue, most of the questions revolve around how to effectively handle that transition.

A lot of moms oscillate between two extremes – they either don’t want any parenting schedule at all (because they want to decide as they go), or they want EVERYTHING spelled out in black and white so that everyone has the exact same expectations.

For myself, I think the second type of mom has the better idea. To leave everything up to circumstances, or to give mom too many opportunities to say “no, sorry, Tuesday night doesn’t work for us” sets up a potentially difficult custody case later. No, in my opinion, it’s better to hash it all out now, however difficult it might be, and set the two of you up for a successful coparenting relationship moving forward.

These days, coparenting relationships are governed by parenting plans, which specifically set forth the amount of time that each parent gets with the child.

Exactly what that looks like, though, varies dramatically from case to case. In a case where mom and dad live close by each other, they may share week on/week off custody, or on a 4-3-3-4 rotating basis. But, then again, they might not. They might agree that it’s best for school aged kids to have one home during the week, and may share every other weekend, with one overnight or one weeknight dinner, for the noncustodial parent.

For parents who don’t live near each other, there is far more likely to be a custodial and a noncustodial parent. If there’s a lot of geographic difference between the two, you may see an arrangement where the non custodial parent gets more of the time in the summer and the better holiday schedule.

Ultimately, the parenting plan divides each parent’s time into their separate parenting time.

The phrase ‘parenting time’ has evolved out of a desire to use less stereotypical language around a non custodial parent’s (usually a dad) time with his children. To call it ‘visitation’ doesn’t sound like he’s a parent doing separate but equal work with the mother. To me, it actually sounds a bit like what you do when you see someone who is in prison – but I’m not sure who, in this analogy, is actually incarcerated.

In a lot of ways, the law has evolved to reflect changing attitudes. We no longer refer to ‘alimony’ as such; instead, we call it spousal support. The goal is to create language that is more gender neutral, and I think the premise here is much the same.

Moms aren’t moms and dads just visitors; to call his time parenting time (and mom’s time, too) reflects a belief that parents are more equal in the parenting, and are responsible for shouldering equal amounts of parenting responsibility.

It’s a blessing and a curse, like so many things. As mothers, we all kind of want our kids to ourselves – it’s hard not to listen to that little inner voice telling you to hold them and never let them go. Hey, it’s that instinct that helps you keep them safe, and helps you push them to be the best versions of themselves that they can be. A mother’s love is a powerful thing.

But a dad having parenting time can be liberating, in its own way, too. I recently read an article about how custody arrangements that favor mom are sexist – not because they hurt dad, but because of the ways they continue to hurt moms.

Custody, like so many other things in family law, is not one size fits all. There are plenty of cases where dad isn’t fit to have parenting time – like where he’s suffering from untreated mental illness, from a drug or alcohol addiction, if he’s relocated far away, is physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive, and so on. In some cases, a supervised visitation arrangement is more appropriate. In more cases, though, we will see a specific parenting plan in place, and each parent given parenting time.

It’s good and bad. The courts don’t always get it right, of course, but the idea of the best interests of the child is the guiding principle that helps courts make these kinds of decisions, and I truly believe that judges, guardians ad litem, attorneys and others who are working within this system (myself and my firm included) are all trying to make the world better.

For more information, or to schedule a consultation to discuss your custody case, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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