As working parents’ roles in the lives of their children evolve with the demands of the modern economy, so too do their parental rights as divorced parents.
Traditionally, a child’s custodial parent would be the primary residential parent and child support recipient and the non-custodial parent would pay child support and be granted “visitation.” Those of us raised in the 1970’s and 80’s remember the “one evening per week and every other weekend” schedule as the de facto visitation for all the divorced fathers we knew. Expanded parenting time, or even joint legal custody (the right to an equal say in the major decisions affecting a child’s life), were reserved for the most amicable of divorced parents.
Oh how times have changed. In today’s negotiations, more non-custodial parents are asking to expand their weekends to include Thursdays and/or Mondays, so that they too can participate in the children’s school routine, whether that be helping with homework, packing lunches, or just staying involved in the day-to-day lives of their children. Overnights on school nights, extended weekends and the like are much more prevalent today than in the past.
Our traditional model of parenting time was predicated on the notion that most families were single income earning families. Mom was staying home with the kids and Dad was out working 9:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. That is not the world we live in anymore, and our parenting schedules are reflecting that trend. In today’s economy, two income earner households are the norm and more married parents divide responsibilities for the children. If the parents in dual income families divorce, the allocation of shared responsibilities established during the marriage may lend itself to a shared parenting time schedule post-divorce.
But shared parenting time is not a given for even dual income families. It takes the highest degree of cooperation and trust between the divorced parties to make shared parenting time work. First, the parents must live in the same school district so as to have immediate access to schools, extracurricular activities and the like. Second, both parents need to share in the logistical obligations necessary to maintain such a schedule. If one parent travels for work every week, or works long burdensome hours, he or she may not be consistently available to do his or her share of the school pickups and drop offs. Working spouses must be flexible in their work schedules and make sacrifices in order for a shared parenting time schedule to work effectively.
Third, effective communication and coordination between the divorced parents is a must. With the children splitting their time between two homes, cooperation in getting homework done and coordination of transportation responsibilities is essential. Inevitably, emergencies will arise when a parent is stuck at the office and the other must fill in, even though it may not be his or her scheduled time. The failure to effectively cooperate and coordinate in a shared parenting time schedule will harm the children first and foremost.
Importantly, a parent should not use a shared parenting schedule as a basis to avoid the obligation to pay child support. Custodial and financial rights and obligations are not tied together under the law, and the designation of a custodial (i.e. child support recipient) parent is predicated on a variety of facts that do not necessarily include the allocation of parenting time between the parents. Too many non-custodial parents attempt to leverage parenting time against their obligation to pay child support, and a court will not be receptive to a parent’s argument for shared parenting time if the court believes that parent’s motivation for seeking such shared time is financial.
Extended parenting time allows both parents to remain intimately involved in the daily lives of their children. For those parents who are willing to cooperate and make the necessary concessions to stay involved in the lives of the children, extended parenting time may be possible.