During your divorce or separation most separated families will create a parenting time schedule that controls who will care for the children on what days and times. These plans can be flexible or specific, but they should always reflect your child’s best interests. Now, the state Supreme Court has released a new guide on Michigan parenting time that can help parents and their lawyers create customized plans that fit their family’s needs.
On March 3, 2021, the Michigan Supreme Court announced the release of a new Michigan Parenting Time Guideline. Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack said in the statement:
“Courts are resources for their communities. . . . This valuable, commonsense tool reflects the needs of families today and empowers them to design a parenting time schedule that best works for them and keeps them connected.”
The state Friend of the Court Bureau hasn’t issued new guidelines since 2000. This new version accounts for parents’ increased access to electronic communications, and a better understanding of children’s development and their needs. Many counties, including Washtenaw, Livingston, and Oakland counties, have their own handbooks that they use to resolve parenting time disputes. However, these statewide parenting time guidelines are designed to help parents reach their own resolution.
Parenting time will be awarded to both parents in all but the most serious cases, even when a child custody order says one parent has “sole physical custody.” However, how long parenting time lasts and how often it happens will depend on the child’s needs, the parents’ schedules, and other considerations. As the Michigan Parenting Time Guidelines emphasize:
“Because each family is unique, there is not one standard schedule that works best for all families.”
Instead, the Guidelines provide 14 sample parenting time schedules including:
It also acknowledges that some families will need to use extended parenting time during the children’s school breaks to supplement or replace a weekly parenting time schedule.
Note: The Michigan Parenting Time Guidelines use the word “visits” for shorter stays with a parent. However, a parent’s rights and responsibilities are the same while a child is in their care, even if only for a few hours.
The parenting time guidelines spend significant time explaining how children’s changing developmental needs affect their ideal parenting time plans. The best parenting time schedules account for these changes, allowing parents to adapt to their children’s needs over time.
Infants and toddlers need regular, frequent visits with both parents to help them form healthy attachment to their caregivers. If they are breastfeeding or if one parent is unfamiliar with or not comfortable with providing basic care for the infant, these visits may need to be short and scheduled around naps and feeding times. Young children may also benefit from visible and predictable schedules to help them cope with separation from a parent.
As children enter elementary school, their schedules change. They need access to their friends in and out of school. This allows them to learn healthy interpersonal skills they will need later in life. They will also begin to have extracurricular activities and homework that will affect the nature of their time spent with parents. At this age, frequent parenting time exchanges, especially during the school week, can cause the children anxiety. According to the guidelines “Parents need to have more flexibility as the child develops his or her own identity through friends and interests.”
Teenagers, especially older teens, often have many demands on their time. They are also becoming more independent, and may want to spend more time with friends than their parents. However, they are also at risk for making bad decisions about mature issues like intimacy or substance use. Even when they are able to drive themselves, teenagers need firm boundaries and clear expectations about parental contact. However, the specific schedule for parenting time may need to become more flexible and respond to the child’s wants, needs, and obligations.
The Guidelines recommend that parents alternate, share, or split holidays. Often a parenting time holiday schedule directs that parents alternate celebrating specific holidays on even or odd years. This may be affected by extended parenting time awarded in cases where parents live further apart. However, it also should reflect your family’s specific holiday practices. If you are a member of a minority religion, place more importance on one holiday than your co-parent, or have annual family reunions or celebrations, make sure your holiday parenting time schedule accounts for those celebrations.
Age is far from the only factor for parents and their family law attorneys to consider when creating a parenting time plan. The Guidelines lay out several other aspects that can affect a child’s needs:
The schedules contained in the Guidelines also assume both parents can cooperate, or at least communicate safely, about their children’s needs. Different strategies may be necessary when one parent is unsafe, such as:
In these cases, you and your family law attorney may need to advocate for safety protections such as performing parenting time exchanges in a public place, limiting contact to telephone visits or therapeutic settings, or professionally supervised parenting time. These are complicated issues that require careful planning and effective advocacy on behalf of the domestic violence survivor or healthy parent.
The Michigan Parenting Time Guidelines are a great place to start to create your family’s custom parenting time schedule. But they won’t answer all your questions, or give you advice about what is best for your family. Our Ann Arbor family law attorneys can help apply those guidelines to your family’s needs and create a parenting time plan that is in your child’s best interests. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.