Whether you get along well or at each other’s throats, a Parenting Time Agreement can be a true salvation for co-parents. I work with clients at every stage of divorce and separation to craft an agreement that the whole family can live by.
It doesn’t matter if your children are very young or about to leave the nest – crafting a plan that you both accept becomes the guiding light for your family. Now you know clearly who goes where when, at what time, and in what way. There is no doubt, and no room for conflict.
The details of divorce can be sticky. Especially with egos involved, a seemingly simple thing like parenting time can make everyone crazy as parents vie for prominence in their children’s lives.
A Parenting Time Agreement eliminates guesswork and conflict by outlining days, times, how holidays are treated and more.
DIY or Rely on a Professional?
I’ve had clients bring ideas and completed worksheets, thinking they know how parenting time will work for their family. It’s great to make use of online resources (and there are many available!), as a starting point.
It helps to run what you’ve outlined by a professional to hear the human side of how proposed plans may or may not work.
A worksheet can only take you so far – toward an idealized vision of parenting time. Real life can be far messier.
Something as easy as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day can become quite complicated. Consider that young children might rise at 7 a.m. wanting to make breakfast for Mom or Dad. However, if your Parenting Time Agreement has you picking up the kids at 9, that sweet opportunity is lost.
In conversations with clients, I offer options like picking up the kids the night prior, or keeping them until Monday morning, to have a full celebration together. Some parents take the whole weekend.
When you agree in advance how it will go, there is no confusion or bitterness down the road.
We Can Figure It Out, Thank You
It’s great when couples are amicable and can work together. Today, you get along and consider one another’s feelings and requests.
But things change.
I once worked with a couple who started off on great footing. The father traveled for work and so the mother stepped in to have the kids on his time and help out with school pickups, even though it complicated her work schedule.
When they split, they used one lawyer for a simple mediation. They frequently spent the children’s birthdays and Thanksgiving together. It was the dream divorce.
A few years in, Dad remarried and decided his new stay-at-home wife could handle his parenting time responsibilities. The kids’ mom was hurt to be usurped after so many years in this routine. She didn’t like the new wife. Acrimony ensued, with bitter battles in court.
No agreement can predict every possible permutation. There must be an agreement guiding the way parenting time works, so emotion doesn’t muddle family life.
We write a plan so well-defined with as little gray area as possible. You don’t have to live by it as long as you’re getting along. It’s there to catch you in case you fall.
My Time Or Yours?
One common frustration is when parenting time begins and ends. Sounds easy, right? It actually can be quite complicated!
For school days, parenting time begins when you pick up the children at dismissal. But what about snow days or when a child is home sick? Who stays with them? Does parenting time begin in the morning, or at day’s end?
With pandemic-induced hybrid schooling and learn-at-home, parenting time for many families is in great flux. Who manages school-at-home? What if they’re also working from home? What if they can’t?
Holidays During Divorce
Cookie-cutter Parenting Time Agreements also don’t have much room for flexibility beyond the typical Christian family format. Templates only account for Christmas and Easter.
And even then, there can be variations. Some Christian families have Christmas Eve traditions while others prefer Christmas Day celebrations. Instead of alternating one year with Mom and one with Dad for the whole holiday, perhaps Mom always has Christmas Eve because it is special for her, while Dad celebrates on Christmas Day.
Working with a Parenting Time Agreement expert, you can customize how holidays work.
Jewish and Muslim families have entirely different formats for celebrating and observing that need special arrangements, and some families banter over secular holidays, too.
One family loved July 4th, and neither parent wanted to alternate years, so they split the day. Labor Day and Memorial Day also pose potential parenting time problems.
Just the day? Starting at what time and ending when? The entire weekend? And if so, starting when – Friday evening?
I encourage parents to look at the number of transitions children must make. What is easiest for them? Should you take them to school and another parent picks them up? Or will there be unconscious struggle when one parent takes the children from the other parent?
We must consider how parenting time might need to change as children grow older. For parents who split when their children are young, it’s worth revisiting the Parenting Time Agreement when their children reach middle school. They can modify details to have it make sense for older kids.
All in all, it’s nice to have a third party present, talking through the options for parenting time and guiding couples in decision-making.
When you’re writing a Parenting Time Agreement as part of a Judgment of Divorce, it may be hard to change it down the road. The court requires proof in change of circumstance in order to change a Parenting Time Agreement.
With that in mind, consider building in graduated schedules. If the kids are little, like when a child is breastfeeding, it’s ok to have that child primarily with mom and over time transition to a more equitable schedule by kindergarten.
Some parents need to ease into full-time parenting post-divorce. It’s ok to start out with less time if you’ve built into the agreement that parenting time will grow.
If you plan for and agree to it, anything can happen.