Enforcing Parenting Plans

Question: I have court again with my ex because she won’t follow our Court orders. We did the order ourselves and it is very vague so she never follows it. Is there a way to change it? What do I do to do that? 

Answer: These are some great questions and your situation is not uncommon. In Maricopa County the majority of people who are dealing with family court cases represent themselves. This can and often does lead to overly basic parenting plans, which can create as many problems as they are intended to prevent.

First, you should know that there is no “correct” plan and that one size does not fit all when it comes to parenting plans because everyone’s situation is different. Your plan can and should be what you both need it to be. If you have used the self-service forms for your plan it likely will not be specific and comprehensive enough for your needs. The self-service forms are a great resource and are extremely helpful for individuals who are representing themselves. Unfortunately they are very boilerplate because they are made for everyone.

5-2-2-5

Now that we know that there is not a plan that works for everyone, we can deal with what works for you. If you are looking for an equal parenting plan, there are several that are commonly ordered. The first of these is the “5-2-2-5” plan. This plan is very simple. Each parent has the same two days every week. One parent has Monday and Tuesday. One parent has Wednesday and Thursday. Then the parties alternate the weekends, which consist of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This plan is often misunderstood. Some people see it as difficult to understand and tough on the children due to the exchanges. In reality this plan is very basic and easy for even young children to comprehend. The child starts the week with one parent and knows that every Monday and Tuesday, he/she is with Mom or Dad and then the child goes to the other parent’s home. The weekdays never change. This is the most commonly ordered plan in Maricopa County.

Week On Week Off

Parents often like the week on week off schedule because there are fewer exchanges and they believe it is easier on a child when they spend an entire week at one parent’s home. While there is some validity to those beliefs, this plan can be very difficult on children, especially younger children. The best way to think about it is to think about when you go on a vacation that lasts 5 days or longer. By the third or fourth day you are used to the vacation routine. When you return home you have to get back to your regular routine, which takes a while even though it is your regular routine. Now imagine you are a child and you have to do that every single week. The children are adjusting and readjusting to different homes with different rules and oftentimes even different half-siblings. This plan can and does work, but normally it works best with older children.

These are not the only two equal parenting plans. These are just two of the most common. Some parents exchange every day. As I said before, there is not a generic plan that will work for every situation.

If you are not interested in an equal plan, there are many different variations that can and do work.

School Access

Most parenting plans deal with “regular” access, which is when the children are in school. Your plan should include a summer schedule. If you are on an equal parenting plan the summer schedule may simply be the same as your regular access schedule. Some parents like to alternate weeks in the summer, which makes travel easier. This is generally accepted as the children’s education is not being impacted by the long duration between seeing the other parent.

Summer Parenting Time

A key to the summer schedule is to factor in traveling with the children. If you fail to include specific rules for this because “we’ll just work it out,” It can result in future litigation. The most common travel plan in my cases is that each parent can take two non-consecutive weeks of travel time. You should define the week to be either five or seven days so that you are not fighting about what the word “week” means sometime down the road.

There should also be a deadline for submitting travel dates so that your dates do not conflict. I personally like March 1 as a deadline for submission. In even years Mother’s choice takes precedence and in odd years Father’s takes precedence if you both pick the same week. If either party fails to submit by March 1, he/she loses the ability to take precedence over the parent’s selection. The key to this is flexibility. Do not purchase airfare if this is not determined. If you do, it is your fault if the other parent takes precedence. Hopefully you both are flexible enough that this is not a problem.

Also keep in mind that if you do not work with the other parent it is not likely they will accommodate you if that need arises. Make sure that there is some language in the parenting plan that discusses what happens when the vacation ends. If you fail to do so, opportunistic parents will take a seven-day vacation and use the regular parenting time to keep the other parent from his/her child for a longer time. Usually the way to do that is to make all vacation time start and end on Sunday and include that the parent who does not have the child due to the other parent’s vacation will have time starting the Monday the child returns.

Holidays

Another major consideration is holidays. Your plan should spell out which holidays are spent with each parent and what time the exchanges are taking place. This includes major school breaks. If winter break is two weeks, define when the first week starts and ends. Normally Christmas and Christmas Eve are not counted in the winter break and that holiday time supersedes the “break time.” Three-day weekends are tough on 5-2-2-5 plans because it takes regular time away from the same parent each three-day weekend. In those cases it is usually best to simply alternate the Monday holidays (Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, etc.)

Transportation

Including a transportation section in your parenting plan can prevent many unnecessary conflicts. The receiving parent (the parent who is going to start parenting time) is the parent who normally picks the child up. This will result in equal transportation.

Communication

Please also make sure to include a communication section with timeframes for communication and the frequency as well. For example: “The parent that does not have the children will have access to the children via Skype, Telephone, Facetime or other medium from 5:00-5:30 p.m. It is important to include timeframes and it is even more important that the parents schedule around these times so that it is not difficult for a parent to speak with his/her children.

When creating a plan, be specific and assume that you will not always get along, so it is important that you have rules in place. Make sure to put it in writing and file with the Court or at least attach it to your pretrial. Trials are stressful and trying to remember can be difficult, so if you have the plan written the Court can simply review it.

If you would like to change or modify your plan, you should attempt to resolve it with the other party by agreement. If that is not possible, seeking a modification to the plan, or even simply a clarification, allows the Court to make changes to your plan.

I do wish you the best of luck with your plan.