There are many situations in which a parent may be reluctant to avail himself or herself of the civil court process for orders involving parenting time. When things are going well, it is often difficult to make changes. It is especially difficult when you aren’t familiar with the law that governs your current parenting situation or aware of how involving the court may drastically improve your situation. You likely aren’t aware of the nightmare scenarios that could occur if you don’t avail yourself of the legal process. When it comes to parenting without court orders, too many parents move forward with the theory “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I want to explain some of the adverse effects of avoiding the courts and share why availing yourself of the appropriate court process is in the best interests of your children.
When two parents are sharing parenting time without having obtained parenting orders from the applicable court, both parents have a 100% right to parenting time. That means whichever parent is exercising time with the child has a complete right to continue that parenting time indefinitely. Here is an example of how that can lead to unintended consequences. Mom and Dad agree that Dad will spend time with their child from Monday after daycare until he drops the child off at daycare on Thursday. But Mom decides she misses her child, or Mom becomes upset with Dad for some reason, and she picks the child up from daycare on Monday a few minutes earlier than Dad was supposed to arrive. If Dad contacts the police for help and tells them Mom is in violation of their parenting time agreement, the police should (and almost always will) say there is nothing they can do for Dad. The police will tell Dad that Mom has every right to parenting time with her child unless there is a court ordered parenting plan in place.
The above scenario isn’t the worst case situation. A parent can unexpectedly remove the child from the state in which the other parent lives or take the child somewhere without informing the other parent. If that happens, or if any parenting situation becomes harmful to the child, fixing it is far more difficult than it would have been with existing parenting orders in place. When one is getting along well with their co-parent, it is difficult to foresee the kinds of problems that can arise. But co-parents don’t always get along indefinitely, and you need to be prepared for the times when you might not be on the same page as your co-parent.
Obtaining parenting orders does not have to be as costly or overwhelming as one might imagine. If both parents are in agreement about how they will co-parent moving forward, they can put their agreement in writing and then file it with the appropriate documents in the appropriate court. If the parents are not entirely in agreement, the court process will also involve mediation, at which time the parents might reach an agreement. I would always recommend consulting a family law attorney for advice or to help with the process. Contact us with any questions you may have regarding custody orders!