Special Circumstances Cases
All the cases that come before an evaluator are difficult and high-conflict, but some cases bring special circumstances that pose additional dilemmas to the evaluator. Remember: All cases have unique qualities and must be dealt with by the evaluator on their own merits. However, some broad guidelines can help the evaluator whose case has additional special circumstances. The court is aware of these guidelines and understands that they can help guide an evaluator. First, we’ll look at some general principles guiding all cases, including ones with special circumstances.
PARENTING PLANS: GENERAL GUIDELINES
1. The aim of any parenting plan is to provide stability for the child. A parenting plan does not aim to meet the parents’ needs for fairness and equality, but rather to do what is best for the child.
2. Young children, especially those younger than age 3, need a parenting plan that preserves their primary attachment with their primary caregiver parent. Remember that a child with a healthy primary attachment then becomes able to have multiple healthy attachments.
3. A shared arrangement should be considered if both parents coparent effectively, have minimal conflict, and communicate with each other about the child’s best interest without arguing. A shared arrangement works best when the parents work cooperatively together and live close to each other (providing equal access to the same school, peers, and activities for the child).
4. Parental conflict is—if not the most negative factor—certainly one of the top reasons why a child fails to develop in a healthy and positive manner. Children who are exposed to long-term parental conflict are at high risk for later emotional disturbances. They are more likely to have academic problems; to be more aggressive, sexually active, anxious, depressed, and withdrawn; to abuse alcohol and other illegal substances; and to come into conflict with the juvenile and adult justice systems. Finally, as adults, they are more likely to have relationship problems ending in domestic violence, adultery, and divorce.
5. Healthy parenting plans build healthy relationships between the parents and the child. Moving too quickly, with lengthy or numerous visits, could have an opposite and disruptive effect on the relationship-building process.
6. A neutral exchange location may need to be considered if the parents cannot act courteously toward each other. If the parents are not willing to engage in conflict with each other at a neutral location, a neutral exchange plan may need to be developed at the daycare or school, or the parents may need to be professionally supervised.
7. Children all deal differently with their parents’ separation and ultimate divorce. Any parenting plan needs to address the child’s ability to cope with change and how he or she adjusts to the changes that are now part of his or her reality.
8. When there is more than one child, a different visitation schedule for each child may be necessary. A schedule that works well for a 5-year-old may not work for a 5-month-old. Regardless of different schedules, the children need to be together at regular times.
9. If a parent was not active in the child’s life before the separation and had not developed a relationship with the child, the parenting plan should reflect a visitation schedule that starts with short regular contact that is increased as the relationship is built. As the parent–child bond is established and strengthened, the visitation schedule can be modified to reflect this change in relationship. A parent who has been away or absent for a lengthy period needs to build trust gradually and allow the child to get to know him or her.
The general guidelines are reasonable and not surprising to an evaluator. There are probably other guidelines you can think of that are also reasonable for all cases. These guidelines will help give structure to your recommendations, but they will not replace your counseling skills and your professional knowledge and judgments. There are other guidelines more specific to cases that involve a special and unusual circumstance such as the relocation of one parent far from the other parent, the presence of a very young child, the presence of children in the family with a wide range of ages, and updating a case over time.
PARENTING PLANS: VERY YOUNG CHILDREN
The challenges of writing recommendations for visitation are numerous. The recommendations must preserve the child’s primary attachment with the primary caregiver, as well as provide for regular and consistent contact with the other parent in order to establish the bond between the parent and the child. Too much time away from the primary caregiver is not desirable, and too little time with the other parent is equally so. You must determine who the primary caregiver of the child is—but also whether that parent is capable of continuing in that role.
Don’t automatically assume that the mother is the primary caregiver. It is equally likely that the father is the primary caregiver. Likewise, don’t assume that the person who was the primary caregiver when the family was intact can maintain that same quality of care now. Determine whether the parent is actually doing the parenting—it may be that the grandparents or current girlfriend or stepparent is actually doing so instead. These issues have to be ferreted out during interviews. Also, evaluate the developmental appropriateness of the child and how attached the child is to each parent. Finally, evaluate the parent’s ability to do the “grunt work” of caring for the child. Parents of children of all ages have to be able to feed them appropriately, clothe them, wash their clothes, bathe them, play with them, and care for them if they become ill. A parent of a young child has to be able to give up sleep for the child, comfort the child when he or she can’t vocalize what is wrong, and provide the child opportunities to help the child develop trust and autonomy in his or her environment.
Guidelines to assist the court and evaluators in making age-appropriate recommendations for visitation schedules are generally broader as the child ages. Again, these are only guidelines, but they can be helpful to evaluators, attorneys, and parents.
Birth to 1 Year
1. Infants should live primarily with their primary caregiver.
2. Overnights are generally not recommended, but if both parents significantly participated in the child’s care prior to the breakup of the family, overnights may be appropriate. One overnight a week could be recommended.
3. A child can have healthy attachments to others besides his or her primary caregiver. The attachments are formed with regular and consistent visits. These visits are generally short day visits that occur either daily, on alternate days, or at least two or three times a week.
4. The child’s schedule must be considered when the visits occur. It makes no sense for the visits to occur when the child is sleeping.
5. Infants are especially attuned to conflict, so the schedule needs to minimize conflict or stress between the parents. If the parents cannot control themselves, then occurrences must be kept minimal.
6. As the bonding and relationship to the nonprimary caregiver strengthens, the visits can be longer. These visits should also take into account the child’s schedule, and the visiting parent must maintain this schedule.
1 to 3 Years
1. Toddlers should reside with their primary caregiver most of the time.
2. Overnights are still not generally recommended. If the parents have both been consistently and actively involved in the care of the child, 1 overnight a week may be recommended.
3. Toddlers continue to need a rigid and predictable schedule. Day visits of 3 to 5 days a week are recommended for the visiting parent.
4. If there is conflict between the parents, the visits should be kept to a minimum. The exchange place for the visits may have to be at a neutral transition place without parent–parent contact.
6. If the visits are not regular and consistent, the visits should be 1 to 3 hours long.
7. Depending on the child and the parent’s ability to maintain the child’s schedule and avoid conflict with the other parent, overnights for a 3-year-old may be expanded to 2 nonconsecutive overnights each week. Extended vacation times and entire weekend visits are not recommended.
3 to 5 Years
1. Often 3- to 5-year-old children become fearful and anxious when separated from their primary caregiver for long periods. They may demonstrate behaviors consistent with this anxiety and fear when they transition from one parent’s home to the other.
2. As the child becomes more comfortable moving between homes, additional time and 1 or 2 overnights can be recommended. This assumes that the visiting parent has had regular and consistent day visits with the child and that a bond has developed between that parent and the child.
3. It may be reasonable to consider splitting the weekends so the child has a full stay-at-home day and an overnight with each parent.
4. An alternate weekend visitation schedule and midweek contact could be recommended for the older children of this group if a significant bond exists with the visiting parent. It is assumed that this parent will be responsible for care for the child during the visits and the overnights.
6 to 8 Years
1. Again, a regular routine is important for children of these ages.
2. A visitation schedule should be flexible enough to include opportunities for the child to play with his or her friends and participate in his or her extracurricular activities. Both parents are responsible for facilitating these activities for the child.
3. Multiple overnights are generally acceptable.
5. If the conflict is low between the parents and both parents live in close proximity to each other so that the child has access to the same school, friends, and activities, then a 60/40 visitation schedule can be recommended. Depending on the child, a shared arrangement may be appropriate.
9 to 12 Years
1. Many children this age desire one home base with specific weekends, evenings, and activities at the other parent’s home.
2. Some children do well with a shared arrangement and may prefer that type of visitation schedule. Other children do not want the burden of changing homes each week. Regardless, a shared arrangement only works if there is little to no conflict between the parents. A workable shared arrangement requires each parent to coparent with the other parent reasonably and effectively. Communication between the parents must be consistent and workable between the parents for a shared arrangement to work.
3. Any schedule should be regular and predictable and minimize interference with the child’s peer relationships, school, and extracurricular activities. Flexibility needs to be maintained in the visitation schedule to facilitate academic and extracurricular activities.
13 to 17 Years
1. Teens are capable and do form opinions about where they want to live. Their opinion should be considered but not necessarily followed.
2. Teens need some ownership in planning their schedule.
3. Some teens need a home base and regular time with the other parent. Others prefer and can handle a shared arrangement.
4. It is important for the teen to be able to maintain his or her access to academic and extracurricular activities and to his or her peers.
Besides these guidelines, you must also consider the case individually, including such things as the conflict between the parents; the parents’ ability to coparent and communicate effectively with each other; the parents’ current living arrangements; stepparents; stepsiblings; the child’s ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and change; and the relationship the child has with each parent.
REPORT WRITING: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Here are some examples of recommendations written for young children:
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CUSTODY AND VISITATION OF ROBERTA PERSON
RE: PERSON VS PERSON (nka RICHARDS)
CASE NO.: CV-0000-000-DR
DATE: MARCH 10, 2014
1. Joint custody of Roberta Person be awarded to both parents, Randy Person and Beth Richards.
2. In light of Roberta’s age, it is imperative that she have regular and consistent contact with both parents and a limited number of overnights away from her primary home:
a) Roberta will live mostly with her father, Randy, while visiting regularly with her mother, Beth. Beth’s visitation schedule would include caring for Roberta every weekday while Randy is at work. Additionally, Beth would have overnight visitation on alternate Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. It is assumed that Beth would be the person providing the care for Roberta on the weekdays or weekends.
b) Since Beth does not have a driver’s license, Randy is responsible for the exchanges at Beth’s home. Randy’s wife, Julie, or his parents or another person acceptable to both parents can pick up or drop off Roberta.
c) Holidays can be split or otherwise negotiated by the parents. Extended overnights with Beth are not recommended at this time.
d) Beth is responsible for providing breast milk for Roberta if she continues to breastfeed.
3. Beth needs to be required to give Randy Roberta’s Social Security number. This will allow him to access any of her records and provide medical insurance.
4. Randy’s surname needs to be put on Roberta’s birth certificate. It is recommended that Roberta’s birth certificate reflect both parents’ names and read Roberta Richards Person.
5. It is recommended that Beth not be permitted to leave the state of Illinois with Roberta. She is an illegal alien and thus needs to make every effort to become a legal resident. If Beth chooses to move to another state or country, she would leave Roberta with her father, and another visitation schedule would need to be agreed upon by the parents.
6. Beth needs to progress in learning English. Currently, she is unable to speak the language that Roberta will be required to speak when she enters school.
7. Beth needs to become employed full-time. Although this is a difficult thing to do because of her illegal status, she needs to become financially independent. Additionally, Beth needs to eventually live independently from family and friends and provide Roberta with an appropriate living environment.
8. A regular time each week needs to be established for the parents to communicate with each other regarding Roberta. The parents can negotiate this weekly communication opportunity.
9. Beth is currently receiving educational assistance from the Department of Health and Welfare regarding her older son. This assistance should be expanded to include Roberta as well.
10. A reevaluation of this case may be necessary as Roberta approaches school age. It is hoped that the parents can modify the visitation order without a formal reevaluation. If a formal reevaluation is necessary, it should consider Beth’s alien status and ability to communicate in English, the coparenting skills of both parents, both parents’ living arrangements and work schedules, and Roberta’s best interests.
Evaluator’s name, degree, license, certifications DATE
As you can tell, there is more going on in this case than just the age of the child. Obviously, the child is an infant and thus needs the consistency of a primary caregiver and regular contact with the other parent. In this case, the father was judged to be the primary caregiver. Since the father works during the day and the mother does not, it was recommended that the mother care for the child while the father was at work.
Additionally, the evaluator determined that the mother could not give the stability or the environment necessary to meet the best interest of the child. Recommendations were made to promote the mother’s future interests. Other recommendations were written to promote the father’s and mother’s abilities to coparent and communicate with each other effectively and to ensure that the child receives medical benefits and is not taken out of the state or the country.
Obviously, this was a very involved and difficult case. The conflict was high between the parents, especially on the mother’s part. She continually made threats to the father about preventing him from seeing the child and her leaving with the child, as well as demands that were in her own interests but not the child’s. The recommendations reflect what the evaluator believed would reduce the conflict while providing the child with a safe, consistent, and stable home.
Here’s another example that involves a progressive visitation schedule in order to establish a relationship between the child and his or her nonprimary caregiver:
RECOMMENDATIONS OF CUSTODY AND VISITATION OF JAMES GREEN
RE: GREEN VS GREEN
CASE NO.: CV-0000-000
DATE: FEBRUARY 22, 2014
1. Joint custody of James be awarded to both parents, Melanie Green and Steve Green. James’s birth certificate should be corrected to remove Roy Land (a prior boyfriend of Melanie) and put Steve Green as the father.
2. It is recommended that James continue to live mostly with his mother, Melanie, while visiting regularly with his father, Steve:
a) Steve will have visitation on alternate weeks on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On the other alternate weeks, he would have visitation on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The visitation assumes that Steve is available for providing care for James during his visitation.
b) When James is 2½ years old, visitation would be Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday evening to Saturday evening. On the alternate week, visitation would be Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday evening to Friday evening. The parents can negotiate the actual exchange times. It is assumed that Steve will be available for providing care for James.
c) When James is 3½ to 4 years old, visitation would be Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday evening to Sunday evening. On alternate weeks, visitation would be Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The parents can negotiate the actual exchange times. It is assumed that Steve will be available for providing care for James.
d) Regular phone contact between James and his parents needs to be established. The parents can negotiate the time for the daily phone contact.
e) Travel would be shared equally between the parents.
f) Holidays can be split or alternated as negotiated by the parents.
g) Steve needs to obtain a valid driver’s license or have someone else drive when he is caring for and exchanging James.
3. Both parents and stepparents would benefit from parent education/divorce education classes. The stepparents need to clearly understand their roles and boundaries and facilitate communication between James’s parents. Possible referrals for the classes include the ABC Counseling Center and the XYZ Counseling Center.
4. Both Steve and Melanie would benefit from the services provided by the Center for Directions. The CFD is located on the America University campus and the AU campus in Atlas (where Melanie and Sam [“stepfather”] are planning on moving in the near future). The CFD provides personal and career counseling services at no cost. Steve needs to become employed as soon as possible to ensure his financial independence.
5. A time each week needs to be established for Steve and Melanie to communicate with each other regarding James. The parents can negotiate the day and time for this weekly communication opportunity.
6. A reevaluation may be necessary as James ages and Steve becomes employed. It is hoped that the parents will have established effective communication and coparenting skills by that time and can then modify the custody and visitation schedule without a formal reevaluation. If a reevaluation becomes necessary, it should consider both parents’ ability to coparent and communicate effectively with each other, the parents’ work schedules, and James’s age-appropriate needs and best interest.
Evaluator’s name, degree, license, certificates DATE
This case gives an example of a recommended visitation schedule for a young child who has no relationship with the nonprimary caregiver parent. The progressive schedule is more detailed and requires patience and considerable effort on the parents’ part. It is not easy to establish a relationship with a child that is based on love, respect, and trust. Rushing to establish the relationship rarely, if ever, works for the child and the parent. The evaluator needs to carefully explain why the visitation schedule is so long and difficult so that the parent understands why he or she has to go through this process. It will pay off in the end, but getting there is difficult.
Additionally, the recommendations reflect what will help both parents and stepparents become better parents and coparents. This case recognizes that neither parent is financially stable and gives recommendations about how they can become employed. It also suggests referrals for divorce education classes for all the adults who are involved in this child’s life. You can imagine the intricacies and the realities of this case and why the evaluator wrote the recommendations he or she did.
Another special circumstance is when the parents live a significant distance from each other. Distance is not a friend to a child when it comes to regular and consistent contact. Generally, the court wants the child to see both parents often, but if the distance between the parents is prohibitive, the court must make rulings that take this into consideration.
PARENTING PLANS: GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR DISTANCE BETWEEN PARENTS
There are two divisions of distance: short (30 to 100 miles apart) and long (100+ miles apart). The general guidelines for visitation are similar to the guidelines for the other special circumstances cases.
The general guidelines for short distance visitation are as follow:
1. As always, what is fair and equal for the parents may not be what is best for the child. The best interests of the child are what are important.
2. Visitation schedules’ main goal is developing a positive relationship between the parent and the child.
3. Lengthy visits, if they occur too quickly, can have a potentially disruptive effect on relationship building between the parent and the child.
4. Children differ in how they cope with change, stress, and anxiety. The visitation schedule needs to reflect these individual characteristics of the child in an attempt to alleviate the child’s fear and anxieties.
5. When children of significantly different ages are in the family, there may be a need to have a different visitation schedule for each child. The schedules should attempt to keep the children together as much as possible while establishing schedules that are appropriate for their developmental levels.
6. If a parent has not played an active role in the child’s life or has been absent from the child’s life, the visitation schedule needs to provide for a slow building process so that the child and parent can develop a bond with each other. This type of progressive visitation schedule allows for the formation of trust between the child and the parent.
7. Today’s technology allows for the distant parent to maintain a closer relationship with the child. The use of technologies such as Skype, FaceTime, and instant messaging can make the time spent between the parent and the child more meaningful since they can actually see each other. Thus, the distant parent can participate in activities such as playing games, helping with homework, and reading books.
8. During any extended visitation time with the distant parent, the primary caregiver should be afforded the same type of regular contact with the child.
More specific guidelines come into play depending on the age of the child, as follows.
PARENTING PLANS: SHORT DISTANCE BETWEEN PARENTS
Birth to 18 Months
1. If the distant parent has had significant contact with the child, then it is recommended that he or she have 6 to 8 hours of consecutive visitation with the child. If he or she has not had significant contact with the child, the visitation should start with 2 consecutive hours, then continue to 3- and 4-hour blocks, building toward 6 to 8 consecutive hours.
2. The distant parent can have 1 overnight with the child if trust and bonding have occurred.
3. An extended number of overnights and vacations is not recommended for the distant parent.
18 Months to 3 Years
1. The suggested visitation time with the distant parent can be 2 consecutive day visits on alternate weeks, or more often if practical.
2. Visits should start with 2 consecutive day visits for up to 8 hours. If visitation with the distant parent is new or there is no positive relationship built between the parent and the child, the visitation would be consecutive days with the distant parent for 4 consecutive hour-long blocks. The length of the visits would be expanded to 8 hours as a relationship is established between the parent and the child.
3. Visits can gradually increase to 1 overnight lasting from the morning of the first day until the late afternoon of the second day (e.g., 9 a.m. on the first day to 5 p.m. on the second).
4. Extended overnights and vacations are not recommended for this age group.
3 to 6 Years
1. Two to four consecutive overnights are generally tolerated by children in this age range.
2. If possible, the visitation should occur every 2 weeks from approximately 6 p.m. on the first day to 6 p.m. on the third or fourth day.
3. Regular phone contact is recommended since the child will probably not hold lengthy conversations. When the child is with the distant parent, he or she should have daily and regular access by phone to the primary caregiver parent.
4. Certain technologies such as Skype and FaceTime may improve the interaction between the child and parent during these regular phone contacts.
6 to 9 Years
1. Alternate weekend visits are appropriate for this age. Weekend visitation would be from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday.
2. Long weekends that occur during the school year can be included in the weekend visitation. For example, if there is a Monday holiday, the visitation would be 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Monday. If the holiday is on a Thursday, the visitation would be 6 p.m. Thursday to 6 p.m. Sunday.
3. Holidays can be split or alternated between the parents.
4. Summer visitation can total 3 to 4 weeks in 1- to 2-week blocks. Each block needs to be separated by at least 1 week with the primary caregiver parent.
5. Regular phone contact needs to be established between the child and the parents. During extended visitation, the child needs to have opportunities for regular contact with the primary caregiver parent.
9 to 16 Years
1. It remains appropriate for visitation to occur on alternate weekends from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday. Long weekends during the school year can also be included in the weekend visitation. For example, if Monday is a holiday, the visitation would be 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Monday.
2. Holidays can be split or alternated between the parents.
3. Summer visitation can be from 4 to 6 weeks. The visitation can be in 2- to 3-week blocks with at least 1 week in between spent with the primary caregiver parent.
4. Summer visitation can also be in a block of 4 to 6 weeks with the primary caregiver parent having alternate weekend visitation.
5. Regular phone contact needs to be established between the child and the parents. The child can initiate the calls, but both parents need to facilitate regular calls.
16 to 18 Years
1. The child’s schedule for academic and extracurricular activities should be considered when establishing a visitation schedule. It would be the responsibility of whichever parent has the child at that time to facilitate his or her academic or extracurricular schedules. In other words, the parent who has the child is responsible for getting the child to his or her game or practice.
2. The visitation schedule needs to have flexibility to allow ownership by the child.
3. Holidays can be split or alternated.
4. Phone contact should be regular. The child can initiate the calls, but both parents need to facilitate regular calls.
There are also guidelines for long-distance visitation. The farther the parents are from each other, the more difficult visitation becomes, especially for younger children. The general guidelines for long distance between the parents are similar to those in the case of a closer distance between the parents, but more specific guidelines depend on age.
Birth to 18 Months
1. When a child is an infant, if there is low conflict between the parents, it is recommended that one parent travel to the infant and visit at the infant’s home. This will enable both parents to spend time with the child together. The primary caregiver parent can also travel with the infant to the visiting parent’s home. The contact should occur at least once every 2 months.
2. The schedule should feature frequent but short visits—perhaps two visits a day for 1 to 2 hours each. The visitation can be gradually increased to two 4-hour blocks each day. This type of visitation can continue for several days in a row.
3. Out-of-state visits, lengthy overnight visits, and vacations with the distant parent are not recommended.
18 Months to 3 Years
1. Again, it is recommended that one of the parents travel in either direction to allow both parents to spend time with the child. This assumes that there is low conflict between the parents. It is recommended that contact occur at least once every 2 months.
2. The visits should be short: two visits a day for 3 to 4 hours each. Gradually increase the length of the visits for up to 8 hours once a day. After 3 consecutive days of 8-hour visits, 1 overnight can be added.
3. Out-of-state, lengthy overnights and vacations with the distant parent are not recommended.
3 to 6 Years
1. One of the parents needs to travel to the residence of the other parent.
2. Visitation can be 1 weekend each month consisting of no longer than a 2- to 3-day stay with the visiting parent. This may mean that the visit will occur in a hotel or the home of a local friend or relative.
3. It is recommended that the parents travel each month for visitation. If this is not possible, the parents can visit for up to 4 days in a row up to six times a year.
4. Regular phone contact needs to be established. It may be that the child does not talk a lot during the phone conversation; even so, the parent should call regularly anyway. When the child is with the distant parent, regular contact with the primary caregiver parent needs to occur. The use of technology such as Skype or FaceTime can enhance the contact between the parent and the child. Face-to-face contact allows the child to see the parent while talking with him or her. This technology also allows the parent to see the child and help him or her with homework and other activities.
6 to 9 Years
1. At this age, the child can probably tolerate out-of-state visitation with the distant parent.
2. The visits can be frequent, but no longer than 2 weeks’ duration if the child can tolerate this extended time.
3. Summer visitation needs to be limited. An entire summer away from the primary caregiver parent is too long at this age.
4. Regular phone contact needs to be established both for the distant parent and for the primary caregiver parent when there is visitation. Technology such as Skype and FaceTime can make this contact more meaningful.
9 to 13 Years
1. Summer visitation can be increased to 4 to 6 consecutive weeks.
2. Additional holiday visitation may include half of Christmas break, half or all of Thanksgiving break, and all of spring break.
3. Regular phone contact needs to be established for both parents. Again, technology such as Skype and FaceTime can make this contact between the child and his or her parents more meaningful.
13 to 17 Years
1. Adolescents should be able to give their input into the visitation schedule. The child should not be given the ultimate authority to establish a visitation schedule but should be allowed to have input into the schedule.
3. The decision to visit or not visit the other parent should not be the child’s.
4. Regular phone contact should be facilitated by both parents. The child can initiate the calls.
Here are some examples of recommendations written for parents who are not living close to each other. These cases are especially difficult when the children are young and cannot fly alone to visit the distant parent. Cases in which the parents live long distances from each other take a lot of commitment on both parents’ parts to make sure the child has regular contact with the distant parent. It is also expensive for both parents to cover the costs of the travel, hotel, and so forth. One question that can help guide the recommendations is to ask yourself whether you would be willing to make that round-trip car ride on alternate weekends month after month. If not, then it probably isn’t going to work for the child’s best interests. It may well be that the parent has to do all the driving to be with his or her child at the child’s home base.
RECOMMENDATIONS OF CUSTODY AND VISITATION OF THE BROWN CHILDREN
RE: BROWN VS BROWN (nka WHITE)
CASE NO.: CV-0000-000
DATE: DECEMBER 13, 2014
1. Joint custody of Sylvia, Stephanie, and Susan continue to be awarded to both parents, Bruce Brown and Linda White.
2. It is recommended that a visitation schedule be established that approaches a shared arrangement. It is recommended that the girls live mostly with their mother, Linda, during the school year and visit regularly with their father, Bruce:
a) Both parents have agreed that Sylvia can determine her own visitation schedule with her father. At this time, Sylvia does not visit nor communicate with her father. Linda needs to encourage Sylvia to have at least a neutral relationship with her father. Bruce needs to consistently try to communicate with Sylvia through phone calls, cards, letters, and e-mails.
b) During the school year, Bruce would have visitation with the girls for teacher in-service (October), fall break (including the weekends before and after the break), and spring break (including the weekends before and after the break). He also would have visitation with the girls in South Dakota on every other 3-day weekend during the school year. It is his responsibility to inform Linda at least 2 weeks before his visitation in South Dakota. Visitation ends at a time and day that allow travel time and an appropriate number of hours for sleep (not in the car) before school begins. It is not acceptable for the children to miss school because they are traveling or have traveled all night to return to school. The parents can negotiate when visitation will end and delineate it in the parenting plan.
c) Summer visitation would include 7 weeks in South Dakota with Bruce. Linda can visit the children in South Dakota on any 3 weekends from Thursday morning to Monday evening during the summer visitation time with their father. It is Linda’s responsibility to inform Bruce of her visitation times in South Dakota at least 2 weeks before her visitation. The parents can negotiate the actual weeks when the girls will be with their father. Both parents need to consider Stephanie’s dance commitments during the summer and to allow for the children to return to their mother 1 week before school begins.
d) Thanksgiving holiday can be alternated between the parents. Christmas holiday can be split and the weeks alternated between the parents each year. Any other holidays can be negotiated between the parents.
e) Regular and consistent phone contact between the children and their parents needs to be established. The parents need to facilitate this phone contact. The children can initiate the calls.
f) Travel costs will be shared equally between the parents. Additionally, it is not acceptable for the children to take their suitcases with them to school on days when they go for visitation with their father. Either Bruce can pick the girls up at school and take them to Linda’s home, where they can collect their suitcases, or Linda can meet Bruce and the girls at the end of the school day with the suitcases, and they can get them from her. Furthermore, it is recommended that flights to Sioux Falls from Bismarck be considered for travel for the girls between South Dakota and North Dakota.
3. Both parents and stepparents would benefit from parent education/divorce education classes. Referrals for classes in the South Dakota area could be obtained from the Department of Children and Family Services. Referrals for classes in North Dakota might also be obtained from a similar department.
4. Both girls are currently involved in extracurricular activities. The visitation with Bruce needs to take into account these activities. For example, during the summer Stephanie has dance camp. Thus, before setting the summer visitation schedule, both parents must have accurate information about the girls’ activities and plan the girls’ time in South Dakota accordingly. Additionally, both parents must proportionally share the costs of these activities.
5. A regular time each week needs to be established for Bruce and Linda to communicate with each other regarding the children. Currently, communication is done through e-mail or texts. Although this might continue for the present, it is imperative that Linda and Bruce begin communicating with each other verbally in the near future in order to better coparent the children. The parents can negotiate the day and time for this weekly communication opportunity.
6. It is each parent’s responsibility to keep the other parent informed about the children’s academic and extracurricular activities. Neither parent has the right to not disclose information about the children to the other parent.
7. Linda and her current husband Larry need to become more financially independent. Both would benefit from the services provided by the Center for Directions. There is a CFD center in Bismarck at the North Dakota University Center. The CFD provides personal and career counseling at no cost.