by Wendy Alton
In a divorce or custody case involving minor children, the parents must ultimately decide how legal custody, physical custody, and parenting time is going to be shared. Parenting time is the legal term for the specific schedule that each parent has with the children. (courts used to call this “visitation”—obviously “parenting time” is a much more preferable term). Often times the parents will agree to work together, and in those cases the issue is resolved with the order or judgment specifying “reasonable parenting time.” This avoids having to agree to a rigid and specific schedule. “Reasonable parenting time” has typically meant that the parents will work together to create and maintain a flexible schedule.
However, that is no longer the case in Wayne County Family Court. Effective this year, 2011, Wayne County has established parenting time guidelines titled “Wayne County Circuit Court Co-Parenting Plan.” Effective this year, parents that have a judgment or order that specifies “reasonable parenting time” will be bound by the court’s schedule, found here: https://www.3rdcc.org/FOC/Forms/Parenting%20Time.pdf. Interestingly, the Co-Parenting Plan establishes parenting time plans time based upon the child’s age.
In theory, this is a good thing. The Co-Parenting Plan will give parents a schedule that is predictable and manageable. It also simplifies the negotiation process. Parents can now just agree to “reasonable parenting time” in a judgment or order, and have a schedule that they can rely on and work from.
The down side? If a parent is unaware of the Co-Parenting Plan, and agrees to “reasonable parenting time” in their order or judgment, then despite any agreement otherwise, the court will enforce the Co-Parenting Plan. If one parent asks the court to enforce parenting time, the court will hold both parents responsible for following the Co-Parenting Plan, even if they were not aware of it at the time their order or judgment was entered with the court.
An interesting note: published opinions from the Michigan Court of Appeals have held that a request for a parenting time change must be based on a change in circumstances or good cause, and also a determination that the requested change is in the best interests of the child. However, if you look at the Co-Parenting Plan closely, the parenting time schedule changes as the child grows older. The Co-Parenting Plan is based upon the notion that parenting time should change automatically as a child ages, without showing a change in circumstances or good cause. Many parents, judges and attorneys firmly believe that this should always be the case. The Michigan Court of Appeals has yet to publish an opinion supporting an automatic change based upon age. Until that happens, there will be some conflict between the established law and the implementation of the parenting time guidelines.
If you are interested in learning more about divorce, or have a question about divorce, please call Wendy Alton at 248-380-9976 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.