Parenting Time Disputes
After all the work that goes into creating a thorough parenting plan, it can be frustrating when one co-parent refuses to adhere to its specifics. When that refusal concerns parenting time, a family's day-to-day operations can be thrown into chaos. But parenting time disputes can affect more than a family's ability to plan out their days. They can also cause children to feel uncertain and lose confidence in their routine after a divorce or separation.
Any deviations from an agreed upon parenting plan should be taken seriously. Parenting time disputes, or when one parent unilaterally decides to deviate from the parenting time agreement in their parenting plan or court order, must be resolved quickly and with as little conflict as possible. The longer parenting time disputes are drawn out, the bigger the possible effect on children. To put parenting time disputes to rest, co-parents have many dispute resolution avenues available to them.
Resolving parenting time disputes without court involvement
Returning to court to resolve a parenting time dispute can be costly, both in time and money. When appropriate, parents should first pursue alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options to help them come to an agreement.
Parenting coordination is a relatively new ADR technique that assists parents in resolving disagreements over their parenting order without returning to court. Parenting coordinators help co-parents with a whole range of issues and are not limited to resolving disputes over parenting time. Although in many cases working with a parenting coordinator is part of a court order, co-parents do not need to wait for court involvement to begin using parenting coordination services in certain states.
Like many ADR techniques, parenting coordinators help parents keep the focus on their children when resolving disputes. For co-parents trying to reach a solution but who are having difficulty seeing eye-to-eye when interpreting their parenting plan, assistance from a parenting coordinator can help push them in the right direction and give them the knowledge to resolve similar disputes together in the future.
A parenting coordinator's authority is often dependent on the situation. In certain cases, a parenting coordinator may work within the bounds of a pre-existing parenting plan to help clarify certain areas or even provide further instructions for exceptions that were not included when the plan was originally formed. They may also be able to award additional parenting time if they determine that a parent's regularly scheduled parenting time has been violated.
Mediators are another type of neutral, third-party family law professional that can help parents with parenting time disputes. For disagreements that go beyond not seeing eye-to-eye when interpreting the parenting plan, mediation can give parents the conflict resolution skills they need to move forward.
Revisiting the same arguments repeatedly is never fun. A mediator may be able to help you put old arguments to rest and focus on building a new path toward the future, one where you can raise children in a happy and healthy environment.
The ability for a mediator to make legally binding agreements varies and will depend on your individual situation. Sometimes, mediators are able to formalize the solutions you reach in your mediation sessions into something permanent, but that's not always the case. Whether or not you need a solution to be legally binding may have an effect on the ability for a mediator to address your parenting dispute issues.
Flexibility is a handy skill for every co-parent, no matter if you live in perfect harmony with your child's other parent or are familiar with occasional conflict. Plans change or are upended, and unforeseen circumstances will always arise. That's just how life works, especially when raising children.
With minor parenting time disputes, practicing empathy and flexibility can be a radical tool in resolving disagreements. Like with any tool, however, it has to be suitable for the job in order to work. For some parenting time disputes, it's simply a matter of parents compromising and working together to find a solution that still adheres to the spirit of their parenting agreement. In those situations, understanding that, in the future, you may likely be in need of the same flexibility for which your co-parent is currently asking can put you in the right mindset for problem-solving. For situations that deal with graver violations of parenting time, though, flexibility and understanding may not be appropriate.
Going through court to resolve parenting time disputes
For some families, court involvement in resolving parenting time disputes may be necessary. This process can take much longer and may be more costly than other methods. But for disputes that put children in the way of ever-increasing conflict and instability, bringing the case back to court can be vital for putting arguments to rest.
The manner with which courts approach parenting time disputes varies between locations. However, many, if not most, courts will require that a parenting agreement already be on record for a parenting time dispute to be brought before them.
In certain states, parents pursuing court involvement to resolve their parenting time dispute may be directed to ADR methods that do not require the direct involvement of a judge. In Minnesota, for instance, when a parent files a Parenting Time Assistance Motion, the court may appoint a parenting expeditor to clarify an existing parenting order. Decisions made by the parenting expeditor in these cases are binding unless the court vacates their decision. Parenting time expeditors may also be able to award compensatory parenting time in situations where parenting time was denied to one co-parent by the other.
There are, of course, situations where ADR techniques are inappropriate for addressing parenting time disputes. Most states have exceptions to their mediation or ADR requirements in cases that involve domestic violence, personal protection orders, no-contact orders, or any other order issued to protect a child from one of their parents.
Making up lost parenting time is just one way courts may resolve parenting time disputes. Colorado, for example, also allows for the court to sanction the parent in violation of their parenting order with fines, a jail sentence, or the posting of a bond to ensure future compliance with a parenting order.
Because of the various differences between how states and counties handle parenting time disputes, it's important that parents first consult a family law professional in their area before they decide on an approach to their situation.
Parenting time is one of the most important pieces of a co-parenting relationship after a divorce or separation. When safe to do so, regular and consistent contact with both parents is vital for children to feel confident in their new family routine. When one parent decides to violate their parenting time agreement, either by not exercising their parenting time rights or denying the parenting time of the other parent, a child's sense of stability and well-being can be thrown into jeopardy. Because of this, whether via ADR methods or court involvement, it's vital that parents resolve parenting time disputes quickly and with as minimal conflict as possible.