Custody and Parenting Time

Parenting Time Options

The following information is provided as guidance to parents in choosing parenting time language for your court order. If the parenting time schedule in your order is a specific one, you will be held accountable for following it and may face consequences if you fail to follow it later. If your order does not use a specific parenting time schedule, the parties will have to work out all details by mutual agreement. You or your attorney must write up a paragraph in your  court order that contains all the details of the schedule.  If both parents are unable to agree on a parenting time schedule, you may need to have a hearing for the judge to decide what schedule would be best for your children. If the other parent is defaulted, then the parent preparing the default order will have to choose the language based on your own understanding of what is best for the children.

Each parent is encouraged to consider the particular needs of their child/ren to shape a specific parenting time order in your domestic relations matter. Before you choose a parenting time schedule, you may want to review the legal overview below, which explains what factors the court will consider when determining whether any proposed specific custody and parenting time arrangement is in the best interest of the child.

Below are examples of specific parenting time schedules that you family may use as a resource as you are drafting your orders. Please feel free to cut and paste language from this guide if it works for your case. Text in bold is meant to be something you can cut and paste if it suits your needs.

Many people may have heard the term “standard parenting time” and may believe there is a schedule that the court will assign to their case if you fail to include specifics in your order. This is not accurate. Calhoun County Circuit Court has not adopted a “standard” parenting time schedule by local administrative order. Friend of the Court cannot enforce an order that just says "standard parenting time" with no other details. We will have to treat it the same as a non-specific schedule. Members of the Calhoun County Bar Association have developed guidelines for parenting time options and some still refer to these guidelines as "standard parenting time." The guidance provided below covers these options and provides some additional information. A link to the Bar Association document can be found here: Bar Association PT Options (adopted June 2019) 

Issues covered in this guide:


SPECIFIC VERSUS NON-SPECIFIC PARENTING TIME:

An order that leaves the schedule of parenting time to the agreement of the parties will be approved by the court.  An example of how to draft a non-specific parenting time provision is:  “Parenting time arrangements will be made by mutual agreement of the parties.”

This non-specific language is not enforceable by the court or the Friend of the Court. It will only work well if the parties can trust one another to follow a schedule without any court enforcement. A non-specific parenting time schedule may be preferable when neither party wants either parent to be legally bound to a specific schedule. This may be necessary when one or more party has an irregular work schedule. 

Non-specific language may also be a good alternative if, for one reason or another, the non-custodial party is not in a position to regularly visit with the children but the custodial parent is willing to allow a flexible option for visits.  

If a parent finds that not having a specific schedule in your court order is a problem, either party may later petition the court for a detailed parenting time schedule at any time.

In contrast to a non-specific schedule, when a parenting time order contains a specific parenting time schedule, the Friend of the Court and the Court will enforce the specific obligation to make the child available for the other party’s time with the child. If a parent refuses to exchange the child/ren at the time that the order says they must, that parent may be held accountable through contempt proceedings. The can mean the parent who violated the order will be made to give the other parent extra time to make up for time lost. The parent who violates the order may also be ordered to pay fees and fines and, in extreme cases, may even be incarcerated.

If you want a specific parenting time schedule, you must put language describing that specific schedule in your order. Below are examples of language you can use in your order.

LEGAL OVERVIEW

The first task in any custody dispute is to consider what the child’s “established custodial environment” has been. An “established custodial environment” exists “if over an appreciable time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life and parental comfort”. MCL 722.27(1)(C). Depending on the child’s relationship to each parent, the child may have an “established custodial relationship” with both parties (looking to the parents more or less equally for guidance and care) or the child may look to only one parent (or other guardian) for their care. Depending on those facts, the parents may share joint physical custody of the child/ren or one parent may have primary physical custody

After the parties agree (or the Court decides) what kind of custody arrangement will apply to the case, the next task is to determine the frequency, duration, and type of parenting time. 

MCL 722.27a provides parenting time shall be granted in accordance with the best interest of the child. It is presumed the best interest of the child is to have a strong relationship with both parents. A child has a right to parenting time with a parent unless it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that it would endanger the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health.

Parents are free to come to an agreement as to parenting time, which the court must follow unless the court determines by clear and convincing evidence it is not in the best interests of the child.  MCL 722.27a(2).

The statutory factors that must be analyzed to determine the appropriate parenting time schedule for a given case are listed at MCL 722.27a. Please review these factors with your attorney if you are represented or review them before a mediation session or hearing if you are representing yourself. The factors include: any special needs of the child; whether a child less than 1 year of age is nursing; the reasonable likelihood of abuse or neglect of the child during parenting time; the reasonable likelihood of abuse of a parent from the exercise of parenting time; the inconvenience to or burdensome impact or effect of traveling for parenting time; whether a parent can reasonably be expected to exercise parenting time consistently; whether a parent has frequently failed to exercise parenting time; whether a parent has withheld or hidden the child from the other parent or threatened to do so (Please note that by statute a parent residing with the children in a domestic violence shelter may not be construed as evidence that the parent has concealed the child). The statute also allows the parties to consider any other factor that may be unique to their particular situation.

For all these reasons, a parenting time schedule may look very different in a family where, for example, the parents live hundreds of miles distant from one other than a family with an easy commute between the parents’ homes. A family where there has been a history of abuse and neglect of a child or domestic abuse by one parent against the other may need a very different schedule from a family without that history. A parent who has not been consistent about showing up to have time with the child/ren may require a more limited parenting time schedule than a parent who has been a regularly and actively involved parent. 

In some instances, including but not limited to parents with substance abuse disorders and/or mental illness, a parent may need to have his/her parenting time suspended for the safety of the child until the parent no longer poses a risk to the child. Supervised parenting time may also be a solution for parents who pose some risk to their child due to addiction, mental illness, or violent behaviors.

PARENTING TIME OPTIONS FOR PARENTS WITH JOINT PHYSICAL CUSTODY:

There are a variety of methods to arrive at a roughly equal parenting time schedule for parents who have agreed to or have been ordered to share joint physical custody of their child/ren. Parenting time be tailored to the parent’s individual circumstances.  Some options to define joint parenting time for parents sharing equal time with their children include, but are not limited to:

Alternate week schedule: The parents will have approximately equal parenting time with the child/ren on alternate weeks.  Parenting time exchanges will occur each Friday at 6:00 p.m.

Alternating 5-day/2-day/2-day/5-day schedule:  Plaintiff will have the child(ren) Monday at 6:00 p.m. through Wednesday at 6:00 p.m.; Defendant will have the child(ren) from Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. through Friday at 6:00 p.m.; Plaintiff and Defendant will have the child(ren) alternating weekends from Friday at 6:00 p.m. until Monday at 6:00 p.m. 

Alternating 2-day/2-day/3-day schedule.  Plaintiff will have the child/ren Sunday at 6:00 p.m. through Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., Defendant will have the child/ren Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. through Thursday at 6:00 p.m. and the Plaintiff then having Thursday at 6:00 p.m. through Sunday at 6:00 p.m. and alternating thereafter with, in the following week, Defendant having the child/ren Sunday at 6:00 p.m. through Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., Plaintiff having the child/ren Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. through Thursday at 6:00 p.m. and the Defendant having Thursday at 6:00 p.m. through Sunday at 6:00 p.m.

Please note: Parent’s with joint physical custody should also include a specific schedule of holiday parenting time and a summer/school break schedule unless they intend to follow their weekly parenting time schedule throughout the year without regard to holidays and school breaks. Please see “Options for Holiday Schedules” and “Options for School Break Schedules” sections below. 

PARENTING TIME OPTIONS FOR PARENTS WITH SOLE/PRIMARY PHYSICAL CUSTODY

The non-primary physical custodian parent will typically have alternate weekends plus one or more mid-week visit each week unless that schedule is not convenient to the parties and/or appropriate under the circumstances of the case.

Issues to consider about weekend schedules:
  • Many orders define the weekend visits to begin Friday at 6pm and to end on Sunday at 6pm. You may pick the stop and start time that works best for your family.
  • Some parents prefer to have the weekend visit begin on Saturday morning and/or extend the visit until Monday morning if the parent is capable of getting the children to school/daycare on Monday morning.
  • Some parents prefer that the parent exercising weekend parenting time pick the child up from day care or school on Fridays.
  • If a parent works weekends, the parties may consider other options for overnights with the children on days when the parent is not working, taking into consideration the needs for any school aged children to be transported to school.
Issues to consider about mid-week schedules:
  • Mid-week parenting time may be scheduled for the non-primary physical custodian parent one or more times per week.
  • Midweek visits may have the parent return the child to the primary custodial parent before the child’s bedtime or they may include an overnight if the parent is able to transport the child to school/daycare the following morning.
  • If a parent works second or third shift, the parties may consider a schedule that allows that parent time with the children during daytime hours when the children are not in school.
  • The order should indicate an exact time the parenting time is to begin, whether the parent is picking the child up from school/daycare or from the other parent, and an exact time for the visit to end that is early enough for the child to keep a consistent bed time.
  • Parents who commute a long distance for parenting time, may find that mid-week parenting time is not a good fit for their schedules and/or would be disruptive to the children's schedule and may opt for a schedule that gives the parent more time at school breaks.

 An example of court order language for a parenting schedule of this type is:
“Parent B [insert name of the party], shall have parenting time with the minor child/ren at all reasonable times and places as the parties may mutually agree. Should the parties fail to agree, Party B shall have the right to parenting time at a minimum of each and every Wednesday from 4:00pm or after his/her workday ends until 8:00pm and alternate weekends beginning Friday at 6:00 pm and ending Sunday at 6:00pm. Parent B shall pick up the child from daycare on Wednesday and Fridays and return the child to Parent A’s residence at the end of parenting time on Wednesdays and Sundays. Parent B’s parent time shall begin on [insert date of the first Friday that child/ren will be with the party].”

Please note: Parent’s with sole physical custody should also include a specific schedule of holiday parenting time and a summer/school break schedule unless they intend to follow their weekly parenting time schedule throughout the year without regard to holidays and school breaks. Please see “Options for Holiday Schedules” and “Options for School Break Schedules” sections below.

OPTIONS FOR PARENTING TIME WITH INFANTS AND TODDLERS

A child’s age may be a factor in the frequency, duration, and type of parenting time for that child.  The language in the sections above may be used for children of any age. However, parents may choose a different schedule for a younger child until that child has matured to an age where extended parenting time is more feasible.

Parties should consider the impact on themselves and their child when they decide whether to exchange a young child multiple times per week for short visits and/or decide whether a young child is old enough for extended absences from one parent or the other.

Parties with more than one child should specify in their orders whether parenting time of a younger child will be different than the parenting time of older siblings.

1. Children from birth to 12 months:
  • The non-custodial parent may have several (e.g. 3) visits per week for three hours per visit instead of overnight visits. (Best to list the actual dates and times if possible)
  • Holiday parenting time may likewise be limited to three hours instead of the overnight parenting time.
2. Children from one year to three years:
  • The non-custodial parent may have one visit per week for four (4) hours per visit along with one overnight visit per week for twenty-four (24) hours.
  • Alternating holidays may follow the same schedule as for older children, which is outlined below in the Holiday Parenting Time section, or may be structured to provide the non-primary custodian with non-overnight time on holidays. 
3. Children from 3-years until entry into Kindergarten:
    • The non-custodial parent may have alternate weekends along with mid-week parenting time once or twice each week, for example, on Tuesday and Thursday from 4:00 p.m. or after his/her workday ends until 8:00 p.m. 
    • Alternating holidays may follow the same schedule as for older children, which is outlined below in the Holiday Parenting Time section below or may be structured to provide the non-primary custodian with non-overnight time on holidays. 
Summer parenting time for infants and toddlers my be structured so that schedule above continues year round. Or the non-primary physical custodial parent could have the minor child for the number of nonconsecutive weeks corresponding with the child’s age (e.g. if the child is 3-years-old, the noncustodial parent shall receive 3 nonconsecutive weeks of summer parenting time).

OPTIONS FOR HOLIDAY PARENTING TIME

Just as with any other type of parenting time, the choice of how to arrange time between the parents and the child/ren may be tailored to the needs of the family members. Your preferences as to how to prioritize religious or cultural holidays may be accommodated by a detailed parenting time scheduled that is unique to your family

Holiday parenting times take priority over other periods of custody and parenting time. For example, if a holiday falls on a Wednesday that would normally be one parents mid-week visit, the other parent’s entitlement to the holiday would take priority. In all circumstances, if one of the enumerated holidays occurs immediately prior to regularly scheduled parenting time, the holiday would end at the termination of the regularly scheduled parenting time.  If one of the enumerated holidays occurs immediately following regularly scheduled parenting time, the holiday would commence at the termination of the regularly scheduled parenting time.  

If you are looking for guidance for how to write a parenting time schedule, the following schedule that the Calhoun County Bar Association recommends in cases where the parties have not agreed to their own particular holiday schedule (please note it does not recognize all holidays that may be of priority for many families, e.g. Halloween, religious holidays other than Christian holidays): 
 
Alternating holidays, to include the following:
  • New Year’s Day: from 3:00 p.m. on December 31st until 8:00 p.m. on January 1st with Plaintiff (Defendant) in even years and Defendant (Plaintiff) in odd years;
  • Easter Weekend: from Friday before Easter at 6:00 p.m. until Easter Sunday at 6:00 p.m. with Defendant (Plaintiff) in even years and Plaintiff (Defendant) in odd years;
  • Memorial Day Weekend:  from Friday before Memorial Day at 6:00 p.m. until Memorial Day at 6:00 p.m. with Plaintiff (Defendant) in even years and Defendant (Plaintiff) in odd years;
  • Fourth of July:  from 9:00 a.m. on July 3rd until 6:00 p.m. on July 5th with Defendant (Plaintiff) in even years and Plaintiff (Defendant) in odd years;
  • Labor Day Weekend: from 6:00 p.m. the Friday before Labor Day until Labor Day at 6:00 p.m. with Plaintiff (Defendant) in even years and Defendant (Plaintiff) in odd years;
  • Thanksgiving Weekend: from 6:00 p.m. on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving until the Sunday following Thanksgiving at 6:00 p.m. with Defendant (Plaintiff) in even years and Plaintiff (Defendant) in odd years;
  • Christmas Eve: from 6:00 p.m. on December 23rd until 9:00 p.m. on December 24th with Plaintiff (Defendant) in even years and Defendant (Plaintiff) in odd years; and
  • Christmas Day: from 9:00 p.m. on December 24th until 9:00 p.m. on December 25th with Defendant (Plaintiff) in even years and Plaintiff (Defendant) in odd years.
Additional holidays to include the following:
  • Mother’s Day: from 6:00 p.m. on the Saturday before Mother’s Day until 6:00 p.m. on Mother’s Day with mother every year;
  • Father’s Day: from 6:00 p.m. on the Saturday before Father’s Day until 6:00 p.m. on Father’s Day with father every year; and
  • Child(ren)’s Birthday: a minimum of three (3) hours with non-custodial parent every year.  All children shared by the parents would participate in birthday parenting time.
  • Holiday parenting times shall take priority over other periods of custody and parenting time.
OPTIONS FOR SUMMER AND OTHER SCHOOL BREAK PARENTING TIME
For spring, summer and winter school break parenting time, the official school calendar of the district where the minor child attends school is used to determine when parenting time will begin or end.

Non-custodial parents who live in other states or otherwise far from the custodial parent may pursue additional parenting time with their child during school breaks so as to avoid undue burden on the child/ren related to traveling for parenting time while school is in session.


Spring Break:  Alternating years with Defendant (Plaintiff) in even years and Plaintiff (Defendant) in odd years. Spring break parenting time is defined to begin at 6:00 p.m. on the last day of school prior to the break and end at 6:00 p.m. on the last day prior to school resuming.   

Winter Break:  The non-primary physical custodial parent shall have one-half of the Winter break.  Plaintiff (Defendant) shall have the first half of Winter break in even years and Defendant (Plaintiff) in odd years.


 Summer Vacation:  

  • Children who are not yet school age:  the non-primary physical custodial parent shall have the minor child(ren) for the number of nonconsecutive weeks corresponding with the child(ren)’s age (i.e. if the child is 3-years-old, the noncustodial parent shall receive 3 nonconsecutive weeks of summer parenting time).
  • School age children (Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade):  the non-primary physical custodial parent shall have one-half of the summer vacation period taken in one week increments unless otherwise agreed by the parents. Mid-week parenting time would be continue as during the school year when school is not in session unless it interferes with a bona fide vacation plan of the other parent.