When parents split after having a child and are no longer living together, custody can be decided to determine who the child will primarily reside with or whether it will be split evenly between both parents.

The parent with whom the child primarily resides with is called the custodial parent. The other parent is called the

non-custodial parent and may have a child support obligation and a schedule for visitation.

What are Parenting Time Guidelines?

Parenting time is a phrase used to describe visitation between a child and the non-custodial parent. Parenting time guidelines provide tips or guidance to parents who are creating a parenting plan for raising their children apart.

Many states provide specific guidelines that parents should follow when submitting a parenting plan to be included in a formal custody order.

Why are Parenting Time Guidelines Important for Children?

Parenting time is important for both parents to share with the child. The guidelines help:

  • The child rely on regular times and days to spend with their non-custodial parent;
  • Design age appropriate activities and times for the non-custodial parent to participate in their child’s life;
  • Help the child receive supervised, stable and consistent care from both parents; and
  • Ensure the child maintains a healthy relationship with both parents.

Are there Different Parenting Time Guidelines for Varying Ages of Children?

Yes. Depending on the child’s age, experts recommend that parents consider the following in determining parenting schedules and activities:

  • Infants and Toddlers: schedule short, frequent visits that do not disrupt the child’s routine too much. Children at this age need continuous contact with the primary caregiver.
  • Preschoolers: avoid overnights without the primary caregiver unless the child is comfortable and ensure frequent contact by the non-custodial parent even if just over phone or skype to help them stay connected since they have limited understanding of time.
  • Elementary Age: Frequent visits should continue and parents should be flexible about visits including overnights. Consecutive overnights may work for mature children.
  • Middle School and Teens: At this age parents should be flexible and take into consideration the demands of this age group’s maturing lives such as extracurricular activities, time with friends and homework requirements. Also, teens need more alone time then their younger counterparts but it is important that both parents continue to be involved and guide their child into adulthood.

How Do I Create a Parenting Time Plan?

If possible, both parents need to participate in creating a parenting plan. Take into consideration the following things in creating your plan:

  1. Schedule: make a physical calendar with your co-parent mapping out specific days of the week and times that each of you will spend with your child.
    1. Include how holidays and birthdays will be spent and add any other regular activities that the child engages in such as church, after school programs, sports, etc. Look for opportunities to include each parent in the child’s regular activities.
  2. Transportation: work out the details of who is picking up or dropping off the child for visits and at what location.
  3. Communication: decide how and when to communicate with your co-parent such as by phone, text or email and keep one another up to date on changing numbers or accounts.
    1. Always be respectful even during disagreements and never use the child as a go between.
  4. Emergency Plans: make decisions ahead of time of what to do if the child has an emergency and how to best get ahold of the other parent.
  5. Make Important Life Decisions Together: such as what school the child will attend, what religion they will practice, how to handle an older child’s desire to date, drive or attend parties.
  6. Medical Needs: discuss and plan, if necessary, for a child’s particular medical or emotional needs addressing things like diet, medicine, or other treatments.

Do I Have to Follow the Parenting Time Guidelines?

Your state court may provide guidelines that you can retrieve from the court to follow in creating your own. If your custody order includes the parenting plan, then both parents must follow the court order or face the possibility of contempt charges.

Do I Have to Allow Parenting Time When the Non-Custodial Parent Fails to Pay Child Support?

Yes. Even if the other parent fails to make child support payments, you should continue to encourage your child to have continuous contact with their parent. If the court has ordered specific visitation or parenting time, you must comply.

What Can I Do if the Other Parent Fails to Follow the Parenting Time Guidelines?

You can file a motion and ask the court to find the parent in contempt of the court order if the plan is in your custody order. If not, you can file for a modification of custody to include the parenting time plan.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me with My Parenting Time Plan?

Typically, a parenting time plan can be created without needing help from a lawyer. However, if you have a complicated situation or have a concern that needs to be answered from a professional, then a family lawyer or child custody lawyer can help you create a parenting plan using your state’s guidelines. They can also help you get a custody order in place so that is enforceable in court.