Occasionally, I have seen judgments that contain language for parenting time as being “reasonable and liberal upon agreement with the parties.” While the goal of this type of parenting is promotion cooperation in setting up a flexible parenting time schedule, it should only be agreed to under thoughtful consideration of several factors.
First, reasonable and liberal parenting time can allow for flexibility in scheduling parenting time for both parties, especially when one parent has a changing work schedule that will not work with specific parenting time. This type of flexibility can allow the children to be with one parent who is not working in lieu of attending childcare. But in order for this flexibility to work both parties should commit to adopting a flexible schedule and deciding that denial of parenting time will be limited to issues of child safety, stability, or health. The issue with having parenting time contingent upon the agreement of the parties is that the potential exists for one party to control the parenting time of the other by arbitrarily deciding to deny requests for parenting time. Such a parenting time arrangement can increase conflict between the parties, particularly when one party is consistently denying requests for parenting time.
Second, reasonable and liberal parenting time can result in frequent changes in the parenting time schedule. Young children may need a specific schedule that they can count on spending time with each parent. Frequent changes in parenting time schedules can disrupt young children’s sense of stability and result in emotional issues. Before agreeing to reasonable and liberal parenting time language, parents must be confident that the children are capable of handling the frequent changes in schedule.
A third factor to consider is what will the custodial or primarily physical custody parent (“primary custodial parent”) says that reasonable and liberal parenting is. If the primary custodial parent says that reasonable and liberal parenting time means two hours for a weeknight, alternating weekends, and specific alternating holidays, then that could be the schedule the court upholds. The primary custodial parent can change the meaning of what reasonable and liberal parenting time means as conflicts increase between the parties. If there is a potential for ongoing post-judgment conflicts between the parties, then adopting a reasonable and liberal parenting time schedule is not advised.
A fourth factor should be the needs of the children in developing strong and healthy relationships with the other parent. Consistency can provide the foundation that young children may need to form their own opinion of what is healthy development of bonds to each parent.
If these identified four factors or other factors that are relevant to your situation give you pause to think about adopting a reasonable and liberal parenting time schedule, then consider the adoption of a specific parenting time schedule. While some parents view the rigid details of a specific parenting time schedule to be harsh, it can provide the children and the court with details to know what is expected from each parent and at what time. It removes the potential for unilateral control and can minimize the post-judgment conflicts between parents.
Parenting time is not something that once it is written into a divorce judgment is set in stone. It is modifiable while the children remain under the age of eighteen (18). While the children remain young, parents can agree to modify or change the parenting time to benefit the needs of the children and submit their agreement to the court for entry and to supersede a prior order. However, if the parents cannot agree on a modification to the schedule, then either party can move the court to enter an order modifying the schedule.
If you have a parenting time issue and need assistance in resolving it, contact our team and learn more on how we can help you move forward to positive parenting time with your children.