Factors in Determining Parenting Time

Michigan statutes recognize that when parents separate or divorce, their children’s best interests are served by continuation of the parent/child relationship. So strong is this recognition that the law establishes a presumption that it is in the best interests of a child to have strong relationships with both parents. Therefore, parenting time should be of a frequency, duration and type reasonably calculated to promote a strong relationship between the child and the parent. The children has a right to parenting time unless the court determines on the record by clear and convincing evidence that parenting time would endanger the children’s physical, mental or emotional health. MCL 722.27a.

Section 7(1)(b) of the Child Custody Act states: “Parenting time of the child by the parent is governed by Section 7a.” Section 7a(1) begins with the statement, ”Parenting time shall be granted in accordance with the best interests of the child.” Case law has established that Section 3, which provides the statutory definition of “best interests of the child”, is applicable to parenting time issues.

Studies demonstrate the adverse consequences that can follow when the children do not have a relationship with both parents. Other studies demonstrate that there is a relationship between the participation of a parent in the lives of his or her children and the willingness of that parent to provide support to the children, including direct support in addition to that which is court ordered.

The goal of any parenting time plan should be to ensure that children have a relationship with both parents that, as nearly as possible, encourages continued parental responsibility and promotes continued parental access.

Parenting time should not be viewed as a portion of the children’s time allocated to a parent, but rather a portion of a parent’s time reserved for the children. To this end, parenting time plans should offer structure but allow flexibility. For this reason, more structure will be necessary as parenting time plans move across the spectrum from a shared parenting time arrangement to a supervised parenting time plan. In between are parenting time plans that offer some flexibility but contain enough structure to remove obstacles that could interfere with the success of the parenting time plan.

In order to determine the length, frequency and type of parenting time, the court considers several factors (MCL 722.27a).

  1. The existence of any special circumstances or needs of the child.
  2. Whether the child is a nursing child less than 6 months of age, or less than 1 year of age if the child receives substantial nutrition through nursing.
  3. The reasonable likelihood of abuse or neglect of the child during parenting time.
  4. The reasonable likelihood of abuse of a parent resulting from the exercise of parenting time.
  5. The inconvenience to, and burdensome impact or effect on, the child of traveling to and from the parenting time.
  6. Whether a parent can reasonably be expected to exercise parenting time in accordance with the court order.
  7. Whether the parent has frequently failed to exercise reasonable parenting time.
  8. The threatened or actual detention of the child with the intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent or from a third person who has legal custody. A custodial parent’s temporary residence with the child in a domestic violence shelter shall not be construed as evidence of the custodial parent’s intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent.
  9. Any other relevant factors.

The emotional challenges and unresolved issues between separated parents may interfere with shared parenting. Children may find themselves torn between their desire to have a relationship with both parents and their desire to avoid the negative feelings associated with their parents’ relationship. Parents may place their children in awkward positions by using the children to deliver messages, or to act as a spy to report information back to the parent. Some parents may also use parenting time to exert control over the other parent or to express anger and dissatisfaction about the other parent to the detriment of a children’s well-being.

The more difficulties the parents have with the dissolution of their own relationship, the less discretion they may be capable of exercising. A structured parenting time schedule may assist parents who work poorly together. Structure will also help the children by providing a stable routine. When the parents work well together, a less structured schedule may be sufficient. When the children grow older, the same developmental stages that cause the children in intact families to spend less time with their parents are present for those families that have been reorganized by the parents’ separation. This will require more flexibility in the parenting time schedule. Structuring parenting time to meet the goal of stability will eventually allow the parties to treat their children’s time with the other parent as a separate component of the parent/child relationship.

In order to provide the necessary structure for parenting time to occur, parenting time orders are required to be granted in specific terms if requested by a party and may contain any reasonable terms or conditions. MCL 722.27a. Examples of such terms and conditions include:

  1. Division of the responsibility to transport the children.
  2. Division of the cost of transporting the children.
  3. Restrictions on the presence of third persons during parenting time.
  4. Requirements that the children be ready for parenting time at a specific time.
  5. Requirements that the parent arrive for parenting time and return the children from parenting time at specific times.
  6. Requirements that parenting time occur in the presence of a third person or agency.
  7. Requirements that a party post a bond to assure compliance with a parenting time order.
  8. Requirements of reasonable notice when parenting time will not occur.
  9. Any other reasonable condition determined to be appropriate in the particular case.

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