When trying to sort through child custody during a divorce, you can expect to start hearing the phrase parenting time get bandied around during conversations. This isn’t some quaint expression to describe what you do with your children when they’re staying with you; it’s a new term for an age-old law. Parenting time used to be called “visitation.”
Now that you know what it used to be called, you might be slightly more familiar with the concept. Most people use the term “parenting time” to refer to the time the noncustodial parent spends with the child. The courts and parents work to decide the appropriate amount of time that the noncustodial parent will be allowed to spend with the child or children on a weekly or monthly basis.
Parenting time is fluid and varies on a case-by-case basis, which is why the court typically advises divorcing couples as they work out this part of their divorce decree.
We are not naive; we know that sometimes divorces can get downright nasty, and on occasion the children get stuck in the middle of the battle. The courts are there to be an unbiased third party that will keep the children’s best interests in mind when making decisions around custody and parenting time.
About this Guide
This guide covers how parenting time is measured, the factors that go into determining parenting time, a sample checklist for your parenting plan and how a family law attorney can help.
How is Parenting Time Measured?
The court measures parenting time in the number of overnights spent with the noncustodial parent throughout the calendar year. For example, a 50/50 parenting plan will mean that one parent has 183 overnights while the other parent has 182 overnights. If one parent has their children on weekends from Friday evening to Sunday evening, then that is two overnights a week for 52 weeks. Over the course of a year that would be 104 overnights.
What Factors Go Into Determining Parenting Time?
We will go into more detail regarding each of the factors involved in determining the amount of parenting time awarded to parents, but to begin, there are nine factors the courts use to determine parenting time, including:
- Parents’ wishes
- Children’s wishes
- Relationships between the child and the parents
- Children’s potential adjustment to a new home, school, and/or neighborhood
- Mental and physical health of the parents
- Ability for both parties to share love and affection with the children
- Past patterns of involvement
- Physical proximity of the parents
- Capacity to place the children’s needs above their own
Obviously, you have varying degrees of control of each factor, so we will focus on those factors you can control and clearly communicate.
At first glance, this might seem like a no-brainer. Of course you want to spend the most time you possibly can with your children, but remember custody and parenting time are ultimately about the well-being of the child. When expressing your parenting time wishes, be honest with yourself and specific with others.
If you were not the primary caregiver during your marriage, ask yourself whether you are able to make the necessary changes in your life that the daily care of your children would involve. Would you be able to get them to school on time or be home when they return from school in the afternoon? Would you be able to balance their after school schedules with your work responsibilities?
If the answers to these questions are a resounding “yes,” then you should consider requesting more weekday parenting time. If you feel uneasy about handling some of these responsibilities, opt for parenting time when you’ll be more available to the children.
This factor has varying degrees of weight depending heavily on the age of the child involved. The courts are more likely to consider the wishes of older children and teenagers than younger children.
For example, a 3-year-old can’t be expected to make their own parenting decisions, while a 16-year-old will have feelings and wishes that can be expressed and considered far more easily.
Relationships between the child and the parents
The first few parenting time factors are more ambiguous than the others, especially relationships. Every parent likes to think they’re a great parent but no two families are the same. It’s important to consider the relationships between your child, your spouse, their siblings, and any grandparents that might be in the picture.
The reliance a child has on one parent over another is also taken into account. If your child has special needs that require intensive care or you’re the parent of an infant, it’s likely that primary caregiver will be awarded custody (frequently, but not always, the mother) and parenting time may be reduced to avoid interfering with the stability infants and special-needs children require. Robinson and Henry has seasoned attorneys that can help you make sure you are finding solutions that best serve your children going forward.
Child’s potential adjustment to new home, school, and/or neighborhood
During a divorce, one spouse will frequently make the decision to move into a separate home. With a new home, there is often a new school and neighborhood to which your children must grow accustomed.
Divorce can be a difficult time for the children as they try to adjust to new parenting styles and schedules. If you can minimize the amount of change they face, the courts may see fit to grant you more parenting time.
For example, even if you do move out, look for a new place in the same neighborhood or school district. The children will feel safer in the new space since it doesn’t require making new friends or learning new routes. This will also simplify parenting time during the week since there will not be a longer commute to and from school for the children.
Mental and physical health of the parents
This is one factor that you can certainly be proactive about. Ideally you are the very pinnacle of health, but if you have a history of health problems, you should address them before planning the parenting time with your spouse.
Simply having a history of problems with mental or physical health should not prevent you from getting the parenting time you want with your children! However, if you have struggled with depression in the past, be prepared to show your ability to address it, including consistent, reliable medication or therapy.
The same goes for any physical health problems you have experienced. Make sure you have documentation of your physical fitness. Your attorney can help you determine what documentation is required.
Ability for both parties to share love and affection with the child
The operative word in the above statement is “share.” Remember that all of this is to develop the best parenting plan possible for your children. No one doubts your love for your child, but examples of your ability to show your children how much you care about them will help the court to address this factor.
Past patterns of involvement
Another area where you can easily show concrete evidence of your parenting skills to the court is by documenting your past involvement with your children. The more involved you have been, the more likely a judge will see fit to give you more parenting time.
Develop a list of ways that you are involved in your child’s life and be as specific as possible. It could be attending their sporting events or coaching their team. It could also be your involvement in their classroom, whether you’re a chaperone during school trips or you come in once a week to help the teacher out. Outline what you do to help make your kid’s life better by being involved in it.
Physical proximity of the parents
As we mentioned above, a physical change in location can be fairly stressful for the children involved in a divorce. Keeping things close to their “home base” makes the transition easier for them.
However, life happens and sometimes a move is in order, whether it’s for financial, work-related or other reasons. When this happens, it can affect your parenting time.
If you move an hour away from the child’s custodial parent, the court could recommend against splitting the week evenly since it would place a lot of stress on both the parents and children to ensure they make it to school and other engagements on time. A weekend arrangement might be preferable.
The further away you move, the more it can impact your parenting schedule. If you must move to another state, then a parenting plan that focuses on their visitation during summer and winter break might be easier for all parties involved.
Ability to place the children’s needs above their own
Making sacrifices for your children is typically something that “comes with the job” and most parents make sacrifices for their children’s happiness and well-being. However, just because you do not regret your sacrifices doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge your efforts, especially when you are attempting to determine parenting time.
Ultimately what’s in the best interest of the children is what is being determined. If you are able to make sacrifices and put your child’s needs above your own, the courts should hear about that, in your testimony and in writing. Let them know what you’ve sacrificed to ensure your child grows up happy and healthy.
For couples with children, settling parenting time is a critical portion of the divorce process. While your marriage may have ended, you and your former spouse will be forever linked through your children. Having an honest, frank and well-planned parenting time schedule from the outset of the divorce proceedings will help to establish a level of routine and stability in your children’s lives.
Remember that this custody arrangement and your parenting time are not set in stone. If, at some point in the future, you find that you would like more parenting time and are willing to make the necessary adjustments to do so, then you can change the agreement made with your ex-spouse. Just be sure that each revised plan is put clearly in writing with both parties’ written approval of the agreement. This will avoid potential battles in the future.
Use our checklist to ensure that you have all of the right paperwork in order before you begin discussing a formal parenting plan, then consult with a Robinson & Henry lawyer to see if we can help customize a parenting plan that makes sense for you and your family.
If you have additional questions or would like an assessment with one of our family law attorneys, please call 303-688-0944.
Parenting Time Checklist
- Parents’ wishes: Realistically assess your life and schedule with your child’s life and schedule. How much overlap is there? In the example below, highlight the days your schedule matches your child’s schedule:
- Children’s wishes: If you’re the parent of a teenager, have a frank conversation with them about their preferences and, when possible, respect their wishes.
- Relationships between the child and the parents: List not only your relationship with your child, but also their relationships with their siblings, other parent and other close relatives.
- Children’s potential adjustment to a new home, school, and/or neighborhood: Can you (or your spouse) find a place close to your current home? If not, what can you do to minimize your child’s readjustment?
- Mental and physical health of the parents: Get your current health records and attach them to this checklist
- Ability for both parties to share love and affection with the children: List recent examples where you and your ex have each worked to show your love to your children.
- Past patterns of involvement: List examples of how you are currently involved in your child’s life. If you would like to increase parenting time, list ways in which you plan to be more involved.
- Physical proximity of the parents: Do you have any plans in the future to move farther away than is reasonable for equal parenting time? If so, what amount of parenting time would you expect? Would you request custody?
- Capacity to place the children’s needs above their own: Give some examples of sacrifices you have made to make your child’s life better.