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Parenting Time Bullet Guide (Part 5): Visitation on School Nights and in Difficult Situations

Kid-Piggyback-300x238Welcome to another addition in this bullet point guide on parenting time and visitation in family law. As you may know if you’ve read some of the other blogs on this website, parenting time and visitation issues are a common cause of arguments and unrest in many divorce and separation cases. People are often unwilling to compromise when it comes to seeing their children.

Often, it’s difficult to determine when the “right” time might be for visitation to a non-residential custodial parent. I have worked with countless clients in the past who have preferred to use their own schedules, rather than pre-set suggestions common in the legal landscape.

Today, we’re looking at how parenting time can be affected by considerations like school nights, and even difficult global situations.

Is Overnight Visitation Appropriate on School Nights?

Finding the right balance between giving a parent their visitation rights and ensuring a child’s life is as undisrupted as possible can be difficult. Both parents need to agree to the visitation schedule, unless it is decided by the court (usually after your child custody lawyers help you through a hearing aka trial) but it can be important for the children to feel like their needs are being considered. Because of this, unrest can arise when making decisions about parenting time during school nights.

  • The courts of New York will always support parenting time schedules and structures that consider the needs of the children first. This is called the “best interests” standard. The visitation ordered by the court, and the plans presented by the parties (with help from their family attorney), will always address the needs of the child.
  • I find that every family is unique when it comes to choosing the right visitation arrangements. There are some schedules that have gained more popularity than others, however. For instance, I find a lot of parents opt for an alternating weekend schedule when it comes to ensuring that a non-custodial parent gets the right amount of visitation time.
  • Parenting time schedules can be more flexible than many people realize. It is possible to consider your needs with your partner and come up with a structure that works for everyone. This sometimes means looking into mid-week overnight visitation, or having a child stay with a non-custodial parent all the way through to Monday morning on a weekend.
  • The parenting schedule of the non-custodial parent must not interfere with the life of the child in a negative way. If it seems that the child is struggling to maintain their schooling after staying with a parent on a school night, then a visitation schedule may need to be reconsidered. Some parents even avoid school night visitation initially to ensure that this problem does not arise. (Let’s not forget about the possibility of a dinner visit instead of an overnight which actually tends to be the norm).
  • Problems with staying with a non-custodial parent on a school night are often more significant in specific circumstances. For instance, if the parent the child is visiting lives further away from the school, this might disrupt the child’s sleeping pattern and everyday schedule when they stay away from home.
  • Time away from a primary caregiver can also be disruptive to a child, regardless of how close they are to the school. If the child struggles to get a good night’s sleep at another parent’s house on the evening before going to school, this could have a negative effect on their academic experience.
  • On the other hand, if the child does not suffer from a problem with schooling after spending time with the non-custodial parent on a school night, then the parents may be able to allow for this and find that it allows for a better balance of time spent between both parents. Some non-custodial parents can feel as though they’re missing out on crucial time with a child if they only see them on alternating weekends.

Dealing with Visitation in Difficult Circumstances

During 2020, and some of 2021, many parents also encountered new situations, wherein they found visitation and parenting time even harder to handle. The rise of the pandemic meant that more parents were dealing with things like trying to stick to isolation guidelines, while still managing parenting time orders issued by the courts. Indeed, there are various difficult circumstances which can make it harder to follow order guidelines.

  • In unexpected circumstances, the courts often use cases and rulings from other jurisdictions made about previous situations to help guide their choices regarding child custody and parenting time. For instance, during 2020, before the New York and United States courts had a lot of history making rulings about parenting time during the pandemic, the Canadian Ontario court made a judgement about the parenting and visitation time of a parent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The parents had joint custody of the child, but the mother asked to suspend visitation because the father was not abiding by guidelines for social distancing.
  • In the case above, the matter was referred for determination, and the judge responsible for making the decision about the case said that people and parents had to work together to do what was right in the case of a pandemic. Children’s lives and relationships with parents also can’t be put on hold based on the opinions of the court. Parenting arrangements are issued to protect the important relationships between a child and their parents. However, the lifestyle of a parent can raise concerns about the parenting time judgement.
  • In any situation, the judge noted that no tolerance should be shown to a parent exposing a child to any risks or dangers. Transitional arrangements, however, can also create issues with things like child mental health and wellness.
  • In cases such as this one, it can be difficult to determine what the right thing to do might be according to the best interests standard. This is why it’s so important to have the right attorney on hand to assist you in presenting your case.

If you have any questions or concerns about the issues raised above, feel free to reach out to the office to get on our calendar for an initial consultation. You can arrange your initial consultation (up to the first thirty minutes is free) by using our contact form on this website, or by calling the office.  Someone will circle back to you to schedule a time.

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