How can Divorced Parents Establish Balanced Time with Children?

How can Divorced Parents Establish Balanced Time with Children?

All divorces involve the division of property; however, not all divorces involve the division of time.  When a divorcing couple has children, thoughtful consideration must be given to the division of time which allows both parents an opportunity to develop a parent-child relationship.  Couples who thoughtfully engage in this process consider:

How are the children impacted by the division of a single household into two?

Because Michigan law provides that a child has the right to develop and maintain a relationship with both parents, effective co-parenting requires a commitment to put the child’s needs first, including the child’s need to have a relationship with both parents (regardless of the parents’ feelings toward each other).  It is only in extreme circumstances (ie, abuse by one parent against the other, or abuse by one parent against the child), that a court will depart from the notion that both parents should have the opportunity to have a relationship with their child.

Understanding that both parents will, by law, have the opportunity to have a parent-child relationship, the next step is to decide custody.  In Michigan, custody includes both legal and physical custody.  Historically, there was a delineation between legal custody (the ability to make decisions concerning the minor child) and physical custody (where the child lives).  As couples (and courts) increasingly embrace co-parenting, there is less of a need to separate legal custody from physical custody, as it is now presumed (absent the extreme circumstances described above) that both parents have the equal right to make decisions concerning the minor child.  Therefore, custody is a matter of deciding where the child will live most of the time.

Determining where (and how) the child will live (or has lived) the majority of time creates the custodial environment.  Of course, for all but the most dysfunctional families, both parents are capable of providing a custodial environment.  Therefore, the parents will need to decide whose household will form the custodial environment.  When parents cannot agree, then Michigan courts will decide.  Once the parents (or the court, if parents cannot agree) decide where the child will live most of the time, the next step is to establish a routine schedule whereby the non-custodial parent will spend time with the child.

Because so much emphasis in divorce is placed upon dividing assets equally, many divorcing couples get caught up in the myth that they must also have “equal” time with the child.  Such a notion is unrealistic, near impossible to achieve (unless physical custody is shared 50/50), and reduces the child to a mere commodity to be bought, traded, and fought over like a treasured toy.  Parents who approach co-parenting in this manner do the child involved a huge disservice, and miss opportunities to creatively (and fairly) assist the child’s relationship with both parents.

A more child-centered approach involves creating opportunities for the non-custodial parent to participate in the child’s life beyond his or her scheduled parenting time.  Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of things divorcing parents can do in order to foster balanced time with the child:

  1. The custodial parent should regularly keep the non-custodial parent informed concerning routine matters involving the child’s health, well-being and education.  In more effective co-parenting relationships, the custodial parent will consult with (and seek input from) the non-custodial parent regarding those matters.  In the most effective co-parenting relationship, the custodial parent will give the non-custodial parent primary responsibility for an area of a child’s development (ie, monitoring and supporting academic progress).
  2. Establish a routine schedule for regular time with the other parent.  It could be weekly, bi-weekly, or for any periodic timeframe which allows the child and the other parent to spend time together, including overnight visits.
  3. Allow each parent to set the rules in his or her household, striving as much as possible to respect the rules set by the other parent.  The best co-parenting relationships are ones in which there are a common set of norms which govern both households, and which allow each parent autonomy in how he or she relates to the child.
  4. Avoid discussing relationship issues (including how the other parent relates to the child) in front of the child.  Always put the child’s needs first, and treat the other co-parent with the same level of respect you would like to receive.

At Butler Davis, we fully understand divorce and family law, as well as child custody and other legal issues.  We are here to help you and your family.


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