In short, this means the child/children’s best interests are served by having a solid and continuing relationship with both parents. In determining the length, frequency, and type of parenting time, Michigan Courts look to several factors (MCL 722.27a):
- The existence of any special circumstances or needs of the child.
- Whether the child is a nursing child less than 6 months of age, or less than 1 year of age if the child receives substantial nutrition through nursing.
- The reasonable likelihood of abuse or neglect of the child during parenting time.
- The reasonable likelihood of abuse of a parent resulting from the exercise of parenting time.
- The inconvenience to, and burdensome impact or effect on, the child of traveling to and from the parenting time.
- Whether a parent can reasonably be expected to exercise parenting time in accordance with the court order.
- Whether the parent has frequently failed to exercise reasonable parenting time in accordance with the court order.
- The threatened or actual detention of the child with the intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent or from a third person who has legal custody. A custodial parent’s temporary residence with the child in a domestic violence shelter shall not be construed as evidence of the custodial parent’s intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent.
Regardless of whether one parent has sole physical custody or not, parenting time can be set at a frequency and duration agreed upon by the parties or ordered by the court. Some common examples of different parenting time arrangements are:
- Every Other Weekend
- Week On – Week Off
- Mon/Tues to Parent 1, Wed/Thurs to Parent 2 – Alternating weekends
- Parent 1 – 3 days per week, Parent 2 – 4 days per week
- One weekend per month
In determining the parenting time schedule, courts will look to the best interest factors however, it is always best for the parents to come up with a schedule that works for them and the children. In addition to the standard parenting time schedule, parents need to also consider holidays, school breaks, and summer vacation. These are typically agreed upon by the parties or, in most counties, via a state or county co-parenting time plan available at most courts.
Parenting time can be one of the more difficult areas to work out as it not only entails the where, when, and how long parents spend with their children, but also includes figuring out holidays, birthdays, vacations, and schedules. In addition to those items, parents will need to determine pick-up and drop-off locations, expenses associated with extended travel for pick-up and drop-off, determining how long a parent must wait for the other parent, and even the transport of the children's personal belongings between homes.
Problems often arise in a number of situations which can include things such as:
- One parent is frequently excessively late to pick up or drop off
- One parent cancels parenting time without notice or routinely cancels parenting time
- A parent is disparaging the other parent
- The children are being subjected to violence, drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy situations
- A parent refuses to take the children to extracurricular activities or events
- A parent refuses to take the children to medical/dental appointments
- A parent fails to provide prescription medication as order by a medical professional
In many of these cases, one parent is violating an order of the court or has taken a course of action that is not serving the child’s best interests. In these situations there are a number of options and mechanisms available to parents:
Motion to Modify Parenting Time. This motion seeks to modify parenting time to address problems that make the prior order unworkable or difficult. In these situations, parties must show evidence that the other parent is either violating a court order or the current order is no longer in the child's best interests and there are grounds to change the parenting time order. Some of the remedies include:
- A change/reduction in parenting time
- A change in holiday parenting time
- An order for make-up parenting time
- Loss/suspension of parenting time
- Supervised parenting time
- Order for Parenting Classes
- Order for substance abuse testing/alcohol testing and/or abstinence via testing
- Restrict 3rd parties from being present for overnights
- Removal of overnights
- Payment of costs and attorney fees
Motion for Contempt/Show Cause. This motion requires the parties to appear before the circuit court judge and explain to the court why they are violating the court order. If found in contempt, the judge can sanction the party monetarily, order the violating party to pay attorney fees, reduce parenting time, restrict parenting time, and in some situations, jail time for each violation of the Court’s order.
When considering filing a motion, parents need to understand the process is not simple and often difficult to navigate. Show cause motions require a hearing before the judge, and an order must be obtained directing the party to appear and must be personally served. Parenting time motions are generally not heard before the judge assigned to your case. Typically, they are assigned to a referee at the Friend of the Court (FOC) who will hear the evidence and make a recommendation. The parents then have 21-days to accept or file objections to the referee recommendation. If a parent decides to object to the recommendations, a second motion must be filed to address the referee's findings before the judge who will either affirm or set them aside and schedule the matter for further hearings.
As you can see, parenting time is not a simple process. It requires knowledge of the court, burdens of proof, proper arguments, and evidence. Having one of our experienced parenting time attorneys assist you will provide you the best opportunity to fully address your concerns.
Regardless of your personal feelings about your ex, your children need a healthy connection with their other parent. Keep snide comments to yourself and don’t discuss your parenting frustrations with your children. Remind them about mom or dad’s birthday and holiday gifts. Make time in the weekly schedule for phone calls, cards, email, and letters to keep the children’s connection alive when your co-parent is at a distance.