After the fog of divorce lifts and parents work on getting into the swing of sharing parenting privileges and responsibilities, maintaining a consistent and fair custody schedule often becomes a point of contention. For thousands of families throughout the country, one parent or the other may struggle to abide by the visitation schedule or custody plan, either intentionally or out of negligence. Not only does this place both parents in a difficult position, it almost always creates additional strain for the child at the center of the conflict.
As a parent sharing custody of the child you love, you have a responsibility to put your difference with the child’s other parent aside, at least as much as is necessary to create a stable environment for the child. Using custody and parenting privileges as leverage to punish or reward the other parent for his or her behavior is not only potentially illegal, it is truly destructive for everyone in the family.
What to do in the face of scheduling conflicts
In general terms, it is wise to stick to the custody plan outlined as a part of your divorce as much as possible. Not only does this usually help create needed stability for the child, but it also keeps both parents out of legal hot water with the court. If a court learns that one parent regularly acts outside of the custody agreement, it is likely to hand down some significant punishment.
First, you should consider the root of your conflict. It is possible that the issue is not with either parent in particular, but rather that the custody arrangement simply does not fit the needs of the family any longer. If so, you can use this as an opportunity to strengthen your family instead of weakening it by working together to modify the arrangement through the court. If one or both parents experiences major life changes, it is very likely that the arrangement needs modification.
Of course, it is possible that your issues are more about your personal conflicts. Before you begin building your list of reasons why the entire disagreement is the other parent’s fault (even if it may be), make sure that you are holding up your end of the arrangement as well as you can.
Always avoid using time with the child as leverage in a conflict, especially if you maintain primary custody. This is never something the court approves, and the consequences are serious. Legally, each parent enjoys rights to spend time with the child even if they fall behind other areas of parenting, such as paying child support. Courts are very clear on this point — parents’ rights to time with their child are not dependent on them being great parents or meeting their other obligations. Taking the law into your own hands can easily backfire.
Understand your options fully
Many parents do not realize that any family law issue may benefit from thoughtful mediation. You may find that even a single session with a professional family law mediator can help you understand the conflict from an objective viewpoint and reach a solution that is both legally sound and actually useful.
However you choose to resolve your custody scheduling conflicts, make sure to keep your rights and the rights of your child secure, using all the legal tools and resources available.