By Joshua E. Stern, Principal and Managing Partner, Divorce and Family Law Attorney
Parenting time is one of the most, if not the most, important decisions you’ll make during the divorce process. At Stern Perkoski Mendez, we focus on creating a plan that works well for you and your child. And, in best-case scenarios, it’s a plan that you and your former spouse both feel confident in and can follow consistently.
However, sometimes we work with clients with difficult spouses who don’t respect their parenting time agreements. If your former spouse is consistently violating your agreement, it could be an abuse of parenting time—and you may have grounds to ask the court to adjust the agreement.
What is an abuse of parenting time?
Abuse of parenting time covers a range of activities that do not adhere to the agreement set forth by the court during your divorce. Depending on the situation and how minor or extreme it is, the court will put a solution in place that rectifies the abuse of parenting time.
What is abuse of parenting time? Legally, it is any meaningful violation of a court order or judgment governing parenting time and parental conduct. What is meaningful? It depends, although we can likely identify it when we see it. For instance, if an agreement requires exchanges to occur at noon on each Saturday and one parent is routinely late by five minutes, it is unlikely the court would take action. Being early or late by a few minutes to an exchange is a somewhat common occurrence and is as much the product of traffic as anything else. Conversely, if one parent is consistently 30 minutes late each exchange, the court will almost certainly take some form of action.
When taking action for an abuse of parenting time, the complaining parent should have some ideas on how to remedy the situation. There is no guarantee the court agrees with the petitioning party, but it is always helpful to have end goals in mind and the ability to articulate solutions to the problems brought to court.
If you’re thinking about going to court to amend your parenting time agreement, the first thing you should ask yourself is: do you have an actionable plan in mind? If your spouse is five minutes late every week, while it’s immensely annoying, there may not be an actionable change to your parenting time plan.
Below are a few common situations that our team sees frequently, along with examples of how the court would adjust your parenting time plan accordingly.
The problem: Your former spouse is late to nearly every pickup/drop-off when it’s time to switch parenting days, causing you to wait 30 minutes to an hour for them several times a month.
The solution(s): The parent who is late is given a grace period of 15 minutes. If he or she is late to pick up the child at that time, his or her parenting time for that day is forfeited. If the parent is late dropping off the child, he or she may have his or her time reduced or be sanctioned for each occurrence.
In lieu of creating a 15 minute grace window, the court institutes a four-week test run where your former spouse has the chance to significantly change their behavior. If the problem persists, the court intervenes. You could be granted more parenting time and more consecutive days so that drop-offs are less frequent.
In more extreme situations, a parent could be ordered to check in with a parenting coordinator at each exchange such that there is an independent record of when each parent arrives and leaves at an exchange point. From there, the information can be shared with the court for continual monitoring and adjusting of the parenting agreement.
The problem: Your former spouse should drop your child off at school on Monday mornings, and then you pick them up after school. But your former spouse is late for school drop-off every week.
The solution: In this situation, the court may take away the Sunday-night overnight from your former spouse. They’ve proven they are unable to get your kids to school on time at the beginning of the week. So, you’ll exchange care on Sunday evening, and you will be responsible for getting your kids to school on time on Monday morning.
The problem: Your former spouse plans a vacation with your child and doesn’t notify you until the week before—rather than the agreed-upon four weeks’ notice you both have to give before vacation.
The solution(s): The most basic solution here may also be the most draconian, namely that your former spouse is denied vacation time that is not consistent with the terms of the parenting plan.
In the alternative, you could be granted an extra week of vacation time to make up for the unplanned vacation your former spouse took. And your parenting time plan is amended to require two months’ notice from your former spouse rather than the original four weeks.
The problem: Your former spouse drops the kids off to you every Friday, but consistently forgets their school materials—leaving them unable to complete homework over the weekend.
The solution: If your former spouse forgets the kids’ school bags, they must drop it off at your house by Saturday at 10am. If they can’t follow this agreement, then they no longer get Friday night dinners with the kids, and you’ll pick them up directly from school instead.
Contact Our Divorce and Family Law Firm in Evanston, Chicago, Lake Forest and Oak Brook
If your former spouse isn’t respecting the parenting time plan that you agreed upon set forth by the court, you have a right to adjust the plan. At Stern Perkoski Mendez, we can support you in identifying actionable steps to stop the abuse of parenting time.
Contact our team at (847) 868-9584 or request a free consultation online. We have offices on the North Shore, in downtown Chicago and in DuPage County, and will happily meet at the location most convenient for you.