Tonight's post on parenting time was written by Savannah family law attorney, David Purvis.
One of the hardest parts of any family law case involving a minor child involves custody and visitation. Most parents rightfully find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that their child won't physically be present in their lives as much as they were prior to the divorce. Many parents go to great lengths to secure their parenting time going forward, sometimes to the point of detrimentally affecting the child's relationship with both parents.
If I were on the other side...
Often, parents get bogged down in wanting the same number of days or hours with the child as the other parent. That's understandable, but is rarely going to be the order of the court because it rarely makes sense for the child. It is also incredibly difficult to maintain as the child ages and situations change.
When thinking about the visitation schedule, it can be helpful to ask yourself, "if I was on the other end of this schedule, would I be happy?" Yes, it can be difficult to put yourself in your ex's shoes, but the point of the custody and visitation schedule isn't about you anyway, it's about the child. Would you want the visitation schedule if you were the child?
Exercise your parenting time..
Once there is court ordered custody and visitation, it is up to the parents to exercise their time with the child in accordance with that schedule. Being upset at how the situation played out is never an excuse not to exercise the visitation you have. Failing to exercise visitation sends the wrong message to the child and will not put you in a position later to ask the court to revisit the parenting time in your situation and give you an increase in time
If you are not able to exercise a scheduled visitation, it is important to communicate that to the other parent as soon as possible. If you are planning on asking the court later to increase your parenting time, showing effective, responsible co-parenting throughout the duration of the existing Parenting Plan is essential. Likewise, be as accommodating as possible to the other parent.
Use the time you have effectively.
The focus should be on maximizing the value of the time you do have with the child. This doesn't mean bumper cars and ice cream all the time, either. Being a good parent means not only enjoying your time with your child, but guiding and mentoring your child as they age. Think back on your own fond memories of childhood. Likely, they involve being in environments that made you feel safe and secure. Spending time in your home, particularly if it is new for the child, will go a long way in building those same memories for your child.
Most Parenting Plans allow for the parent who does not have physical custody of the child to have reasonable phone visitation rights. With modern technology, this can and is expanded to include Skype, Facetime, and other wonderful technology that allows parent and child to see each other. Take advantage of this technology and your privilege to contact your child. And when you're the custodial parent, make every effort to facilitate these communications.
Parenting time, like most everything else involving your child and the court, is going to be determined by the "best interests of the child standard." There are many factors a judge can and will consider in determining the best interests of the child. You cannot control the fact that a divorce will necessarily mean some changes in the time you spend with your child, but you can work on improving the quality of time spent with your child and to set the stage for a future modification action later.