In the past, the conventional wisdom was that a child should always be primarily with one parent, and that the other parent, no matter how skilled, would have “visitation.” Research in the social sciences discredited that position. Today, it is the policy of the State of Oregon that a child should have frequent and continuing contact with fit parents who have the ability to act in the child’s best interests. A parent’s contact with a child is called “parenting time.” Parenting time is always modifiable, based on the best interests of the child.
To ensure that a child has frequent and continuing contact with each parent, every divorce, legal separation, and paternity judgment involving child custody must include a “parenting plan.”
Parents may agree to a very general parenting plan. Parents may also elect, or the court may order, a very detailed parenting plan. A detailed parenting plan usually has provisions to allocate weekdays, weekends, holidays, and school vacations. Traditional ideas about the father having parenting time with a child only every other weekend have been discredited by research. Most courts are now aware of at least some of that research. As a result, generally, when both parents are fit, each parent will have frequent time with the child. Equal parenting time is also becoming increasingly common for fit parents. A detailed parenting plan may include provisions about transporting the child to and from parenting time, sharing the child’s clothing and sports equipment, terms for telephone, email, and text communication between the parents and the child, and other practical solutions to ensure that the child’s best interests are being met.
Many parenting plans also include a provision that parenting time can be changed at any time upon the agreement of both parties. Parenting plans can and should be tailored to children’s and parent’s needs. Ideally, parents should work together in a spirit of cooperation to develop a parenting plan that is in the children’s best interests.
Peter will work with you and with your spouse’s lawyer to develop a parenting plan that is the best fit for your family following your divorce. Or, if you already have a divorce judgment in place, Peter can help you determine when and if a modification of parenting time is appropriate, and, if necessary, will work with you to prepare documents to ask the court for a modification of the parenting time provisions of a prior judgment or parenting plan.
Sometimes, a parent may have an issue that could impact his or her fitness, such as a history of drug or alcohol abuse. In those cases, a parenting plan should include provisions to help ensure the child’s safety. For example, if one parent is a recovering alcoholic, depending on the circumstances, a parenting plan could include safety measures such as a complete prohibition on alcohol use during parenting time, coupled with random testing for alcohol use. Again, your parenting plan can and should be crafted to address the specific issues the other parent may be experiencing. Peter has helped a number of clients develop and implement safety provisions in their parenting plans to help protect their children.
Other times, parents may simply have serious disagreements about what custodial arrangement and parenting plan are in a child’s best interests. Lawyers are required by ethical rules to “zealously” represent their clients. What that word means, however, may take on a very different meaning when a child’s best interests are at issue.
Unfortunately, parenting time disputes sometimes continue long after a divorce is finished, the lawyers are paid and gone, and the parents have moved on in other respects. Research in the social sciences confirms that parental conflict can have a long-lasting impact on a child. Moreover, parents will necessarily have to deal with each other about matters involving their children well after their divorce is over.
There is strong research that shows a child with divorced parents has a much better chance of succeeding in life if the parents deal with each other civilly. Therefore, in any dispute involving legal custody and parenting time, parents and their children are better served if the parents can resolve that dispute directly, or through settlement negotiations or mediation. If that does not happen, those issues should be dealt with in a way serves you and the best interests of your child. This may include the appointment of a custody evaluator, who will interview the family members and other people, and possibly administer psychological testing, the appointment of an attorney for a child, and the appointment of a parenting coordinator, to help parents resolve parenting time disputes without resorting to litigation. In certain intractable situations, the trial court may need to resolve the dispute.
Peter has extensive experience in dealing with child custody and parenting time issues. Peter is a member of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, which is a network of professionals who are committed to serving the best interests of children. Peter is committed to advocating for his clients’ parenting time rights with as little unnecessary conflict as possible. A disagreement does not have to become a war, and Peter encourages his clients to work with counselors, parenting coordinators, mediators, child psychologists, and other professionals to resolve disagreements outside of a courtroom whenever possible.
Whatever your circumstances, Peter will work with you to help resolve custody and parenting time issues fairly, with an understanding of the long-range impact these kinds of disputes have on children and families.
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