By Sara Pitcher
In states with Parenting Time Guidelines that do not specifically propose parenting time for parents with non-traditional work schedules, there can be unanswered questions on how to handle the parenting time schedule.
Parents who work as police officers, firefighters, nurses, or any other occupation that typically does not have weekends off work should have an immediate concern as the Parenting Time Guidelines often recommend parenting time every other weekend for the non-custodial parent.
Does this mean that the custodial parent only has to offer the non-custodial parent every other weekend and if the non-custodial parent is working and not available for parenting time, then the time is forfeited? Typically not.
When issuing child custody or parenting time orders, the court will consider many factors such as the work schedule of the parents, the distance between the parents’ residences, and the age of the child.
How States Address Non-Traditional Work Schedules
Some states with parenting time guidelines even address parents with non-traditional work schedules. For example, Indiana’s Parenting Time Guidelines state:
“For parents with non-traditional work schedules, who may regularly work weekends, weekday parenting time should be substituted for the weekend time designated in these rules. Similar consideration should also be given to parents with other kinds of non-traditional work hours.”
While this does not provide a specific plan, it puts the parents on notice that the non-traditional work schedule is not sufficient grounds for withholding parenting time and gives the court and the parents the flexibility to creatively work around the non-traditional schedule and create a parenting time plan that is in the best interests of the child under the specific facts of the case.
Parenting Plan Templates
Because the non-traditional work schedule is by its very nature different, the guidelines are unable to provide specific model parenting time plans for each possible schedule. This way, they typically acknowledge that some parents may not work a traditional schedule and this should not interfere with that parent’s ability to exercise parenting time.
If the parents live in the same school district, then the solution may be as simple as granting the non-custodial parent overnights throughout the week as allowed by his or her schedule. This may also work if the non-custodial parent lives close enough to the child’s school district to transport the child to and from school on the days he or she has parenting time.
Difficulty arises when the non-custodial parent has a non-traditional work schedule and also does not live close to the child. Then, the court will likely look at the specific facts of the case and the availability of each parent in determining a parenting time order that works for the specific case.
In addition to typically working at least part of the weekend, parents with these non-traditional work schedules may not have a consistent work schedule. This creates additional concerns because there is less consistency in the routine of the child.
However, in considering the best interests of the child, the court will typically weigh the benefit of consistency and routine for the child with other factors, such as the importance of having a good relationship with each parent and being able to see each parent on a regular basis, even if it is not on the same days each week.
Many times parents with these varying schedules will at least know their schedule several weeks, if not months, in advance. This allows the court to issue an order requiring the parent with the non-traditional work schedule to provide their work schedule to the custodial parent as soon as it is available and parenting time can be arranged within the schedule.
Flexible Parenting Time Schedules is Key
The key for parents attempting to negotiate their own parenting time schedule is to understand that flexibility is necessary to make a parenting time schedule work in a situation where at least one of the parents’ works a non-traditional work schedule.
If the parents are attempting to negotiate a schedule, it will require that the child’s need to spend adequate time with both parents despite the inconvenience of the schedule, especially if it changes, is necessary to work out a resolution.
If the issue is taken to court, the court will look at the specific facts of the case and consider the best interest of the child in determining a schedule or order which best suits the situation.
If you have a non-traditional work schedule and are not receiving parenting time or are in the process of attempting to negotiate a parenting time schedule, you should contact a family law attorney who can assist you in your struggle to receive the parenting time to which you are entitled.